A newly formed company has taken the first steps toward gaining approvals from Southold Town to construct a private membership sports club complete with an indoor pool and multi-sport synthetic turf field at a much talked about property in Mattituck.
Sports East LLC partners Paul Pawlowski, Steve Marsh and Joe Slovak propose to build the indoor/outdoor facility on the same Main Road property where Mr. Pawlowski had previously proposed a mixed-use development and, before that, an affordable rental complex.
This time around, however, Mr. Pawlowski believes he will not need to seek a change of zone from Southold Town, because the property’s existing residential zoning permits annual membership clubs with a special exception from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Sports East filed its initial paperwork with the building department last Thursday and the partners intend to apply for the special exception permit this week, Mr. Pawlowski said.
“This type of indoor athletic facility is something that’s extremely lacking here,” the Mattituck resident said, adding that memberships would be “affordable” for all North Fork residents. “Come winter there’s really no place to play sports.”
Sports East would feature a “state-of-the-art” gym, indoor and outdoor turf fields and tennis courts, an indoor pool, indoor running track, yoga platforms and batting cages. The turf fields could be used for soccer, lacrosse and football, the partners said. They hope to also offer pre- and after-care programs for schoolchildren.
The project has been a work in progress for Mr. Slovak of Laurel, a physical education teacher in the South Huntington School District who also works as a tennis pro at the Laurel Links Country Club, for about a decade. He said he’s had several potential business partners over the years and they’ve looked at various properties around the North Fork, but nothing ever developed. He approached Mr. Pawlowski with his idea this summer and after plans for the mixed-use development on the Main Road property fell through, they identified it as an ideal site. They took the idea to Mr. Marsh, a tech CEO who lives in Portland, Ore., but summers in New Suffolk, who quickly signed on as an investor.
“It’s been an amazing relationship,” Mr. Slovak said. “Suddenly this project is moving at breakneck speed.”
The partners said the facility would be similar to the 55,000-square-foot Southampton Youth Services recreation center, which opened in 2003. Scott Johnson, executive director of SYS, said a number of groups have toured his facility over the years hoping to build something similar elsewhere in Suffolk County.
“I haven’t yet seen anything come to fruition,” Mr. Johnson said. “You need to have somebody that’s going to really drive it. A champion of the project.”
On the South Fork, that champion was Jay Andreassi, a Water Mill developer who owns Sabrosa Mexican Grill restaurants in his home hamlet and in Riverhead. He helped raise funds for the project and donated his own time and expertise toward the construction of the building.
“We didn’t have a rec center and most, if not all, of the people in our group were coaches, who never had a place to practice in the offseason,” Mr. Andreassi said.
Today, SYS has more than 3,000 members and has expanded to include squash courts, gymnastics, karate and educational programs. Its youth basketball league has more than 500 participants, including teams from Mattituck. The facility offers programs for individuals as young as three months and for seniors of any age, Mr. Johnson said.
“Indoor recreation was a need and the town realized it was a need,” he said, adding that each of the programs offered has come at the request of town residents. “It’s a need in every community, but you have to have a way to fund it and keep it going.”
In the case of SYS, the building was constructed on five acres of town-owned land. The town also owns the facility, which is operated by SYS, a nonprofit. Sports East and its property would be privately owned and operated by the partners.
Mr. Andreassi said he believes it doesn’t make a difference whether this type of multi-sport facility is privately owned or operated by a nonprofit so long as it’s structured in a way that benefits the entire community.
“It’s OK to make a little money, but don’t forget kids who can’t pay for it,” he said. “You have to have a scholarship program.”
Mr. Andreassi said it took 10 years for SYS to get out of debt, but today every penny earned goes back into the programs it runs. As for the approval process, he said it took just 60 days to obtain the necessary permits from the town to begin construction on the facility.
While the Sports East plan does not involve a public-private partnership with the town, the facility would still need approvals from the ZBA and Planning Board.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the building department will first need to determine if the “annual membership club falls within the definition of the code and if the use can be issued as a special exception.”
“Only the chief building inspector can make that determination,” Mr. Russell said.
Mr. Pawlowski, who pointed to Laurel Links Country Club as another sports club allowed in the R-80 zone, said he hopes to secure approvals from the town within the next six months. He estimated it would take about 12 months to build the facility.
The proposal, as currently arranged, would use nine acres at the center of the 20-acre parcel on the north side of Main Road just west of Sigsbee Road currently owned by Mr. Pawlowski, who said he envisions keeping the wooded edges of the property intact to maintain a natural buffer between the building, fields, roadways and any surrounding residential properties.
The partners recognize that the project would also need support from the community in order to succeed. They’re banking on it being viewed as a “public benefit.”
“The masses want and have a desire for a nice health club in this community,” Mr. Pawlowski said. “We have the ability to get it done without leaning on the taxpayer. It will be funded privately and there’s nothing like it on the North Fork.”
SYS is located more than 40 minutes from Mattituck. The nearest YMCA — after plans fell through to construct one in Calverton or Aquebogue — is in Patchogue. Suffolk Community College recently broke ground on an $18 million 48,000-square-foot public fitness facility at its Eastern Campus in Northampton, but that remains a work in progress and is still more than 30 miles away for some North Fork residents.
Mr. Slovak said the idea for Sports East was born from early winter mornings driving his two young daughters to sporting events at facilities far up-island. He said it’s a predicament many people in the community can relate to.
“Everyone I talk to about this project is head over heels interested,” he said. “They want something like this here. And I think everyone who takes the time to hear about all this project has to offer — how we’ll incorporate seniors with the pool — will be interested.
“It’s really a lot like a YMCA,” he said. “A fun, healthy and safe place for families.”
Photo: A youth basketball player drives to the basket in a game at the SYS facility in Southampton. A new group called Sports East is proposing a similar indoor sports complex in Mattituck. (Credit: Southampton Press courtesy photo)