Despite neighbors’ objections, Sand Land in Bridgehampton can process and sell mulch, a Suffolk County Supreme Court justice ruled last week.
The judge annulled a Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals decision and reinstated a certificate of occupancy for Sand Land, otherwise known as Wainscott Sand & Gravel, a sand mining, gravel grinding and mulching operation on about 50 acres at 585 Middle Line Highway.
Last Tuesday, Justice W. Gerard Asher called the ZBA’s decision “irrational, arbitrary and capricious.”
The ZBA had ruled in July 2012 that the mulching aspect of the business did not predate a 1972 rezoning to residential use, and the board reversed a July 2011 decision by the town building inspector to approve a certificate of occupancy. In response, the owner of the sand and gravel company, John Tintle, filed an appeal to the Suffolk County Supreme Court arguing that the mulching operation had been in place since the 1960s and went hand in hand with the mining business, which the ZBA had sanctioned as a nonconforming, pre-existing use.
Sand Land runs a solid waste processing plant, where customers dispose of landscaping materials, compost, rock and tree stumps among other things. The business uses mulch created by the waste to fill in pits where sand was mined and also sells the unused, processed materials.
In early July 2011, Mr. Tintle attempted to legalize four structures on the property after the town issued code violations in 2006 for a lack of a certificate of occupancy. Mr. Tintle and his attorney, David Eagan of Eagan and Matthews PLLC, asked the then town chief building inspector, Michael Benincasa, to explore the property’s status as a pre-existing nonconforming use.
Mr. Benincasa granted Sand Land a certificate of occupancy based on evidence that the property had been used in a similar fashion since it was purchased from the Bridgehampton Road Races Corporation in 1961.
A year later, the ZBA reversed Mr. Benincasa’s decision in a series of three such moves, ruling that Sand Land had failed to demonstrate that it had been processing tree stumps, leaves and branches since its inception.
In particular, the ZBA said the evidence failed to address “in any meaningful way the storage, sale and delivery of mulch, topsoil and wood chips.”
Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride and former highway superintendent Bill Masterson had submitted affidavits to the ZBA saying the town itself had dumped and purchased mulch and other materials at Sand Land for decades.
Mr. Tintle told the ZBA that in 1997 the company underwent a seven-year excavation to remove thousands of yards of leaves, stumps, yard waste and other debris that had been buried over the years.
“Significantly, it is undisputed that a sand and gravel mining business has operated continuously at the property from 1963 to the present,” wrote Justice Asher in his decision to overrule the ZBA. “Moreover, tree stumps, shrubs, branches, leaves and yard waste, as well as concrete, asphalt pavement, bricks, stones and other construction debris have been dumped on the property for decades.”
In a phone interview on Tuesday night, Mr. Eagan focused on Robert Rubin, owner of the Bridge Golf Club, which borders the Sand Land property, and Mr. Rubin’s involvement in the original petition, by nearby homeowners, to the ZBA to overturn the certificate of occupancy issued to the firm. “Although [Mr. Rubin] does not own a residence in the area,” Justice Asher said, “Rubin testified that he is an ‘interested party’ who is ‘paying for the lawsuit.’”
“The back story is real simple,” Mr. Eagan said. “Mr. Robert Rubin, developer and owner of The Bridge, began financing—under oath he has said this—a campaign against Sand Land Corporation to drive them out of business.”
Mr. Eagan speculated Mr. Rubin’s motives to be a more sightly and enjoyable golf course and a higher price tag for about a dozen luxury housing lots, also bordering the site, that Mr. Eagan said are being developed by Mr. Rubin.
“I think the judge made the wrong decision, and there will be an appeal,” Mr. Rubin countered by phone Wednesday morning. “The sand pit remains an environmental blight on the Town of Southampton.”
Mr. Rubin said that his financial backing is easily understood because the petitioning homeowners and his golf club share a common interest.
“I am also a neighbor,” he said. “The main point here is they are digging down into the aquifer and contaminating an area we spend hundreds of thousands a year on to maintain. The business is a real threat to the aquifer.”
Mr. Rubin said Mr. Eagan is using his name, money and golf course against him in the court of public opinion.
“Sand Land wants to make this about me,” Mr. Rubin said. “It’s not about me—it’s about the environment. I put my money where my mouth is and the sand pit is a danger.”
Continuing, Mr. Rubin said the opposition wants to make the case look like “the rich Jewish guy from New York City that is attacking the locals. They’ll use whatever tactics come to hand to keep the environmental blight operating, because they are making millions off it.”
Asked directly how the environmental impact on groundwater of the site would have any bearing on the judge’s decision, which was based on lack of evidence that the mulching business is new, Mr. Rubin said, “We are getting into a complicated area regarding burden of proof.”
He said he has no idea of a time frame of his appeal.
The judge went on to say the operation is in good standing with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, and that Sand Land has the right to collect, process, store and sell materials immediately.
“A business that the community and town itself has used for decades is now back in business,” he continued. “What the ZBA did made no sense from the beginning, frankly.”