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‘Pandora’s box’ or a place ‘we need’? Residents have say on Sports East

Julie Amper

Several residents are questioning a developer’s plan to build a private sports facility in Mattituck, saying the proposed indoor/outdoor athletic complex could hurt small businesses and degrade the area’s quality of life with increased traffic and noise.

Still twice as many speakers at a public hearing Monday said it is a much-needed facility for the North Fork.

Speaking before the Southold Town Planning Board, many residents criticized the site plan application for Sports East, which calls for a 82,500-square-foot health club on Main Road, saying they oppose the plan because they believe it would “open Pandora’s box” for future development.

Mattituck resident Julie Amper described the proposal as an attempt to “allow commercial use in a residential zone following an earlier failed attempt to accomplish this through a zone change.”

Ms. Amper was referring to other plans submitted by local builder Paul Pawlowski, who had previously proposed a mixed-use development for the Sports East property and, before that, an affordable rental complex. He withdrew both controversial applications after receiving pushback from the community.

Last winter, Mr. Pawlowski and business partners Joe Slovak and Steve Marsh proposed building a sports facility at the location. They do not need a change of zone from the town this time because the property’s existing residential zoning allows annual membership clubs with a special exception from the ZBA.

Ms. Amper said she believes the North Fork already has “adequate” sporting facilities, including fitness classes at the town rec center, libraries and health clubs.

“The project offers a single, much ballyhooed, carrot — a small swimming pool exclusively for members,” said Ms. Amper, who also serves as vice president of the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association. “How does this one carrot, a private membership swimming pool, justify the stick; a dangerous precedent-setting act that undermines the zoning map and threatens the integrity of past planning efforts.”

Sports East is proposing the area’s first indoor sports facility, complete with a swimming pool, a synthetic field for multiple sports, a basketball court, four tennis courts, two batting cages, a gym, space for yoga, spin classes and locker rooms.

Outdoor athletic fields are also planned closer to Main Road, including a synthetic field for multiple sports, as well as tennis and pickleball courts.

Jill SchroederJill Schroeder, who owns the JABS fitness studio in Cutchogue, told the Planning Board she believes Sports East “may destroy” her business.

“The magnitude of this facility is bigger than what this community can bear,” she said. “I love what I do and would like to see my business continue to be a part of the North Fork, but allowing this project will likely not allow me to continue.”

Some residents criticized the developers for conducting a required traffic study in March instead of during the busy summer season. Others said that while they like the proposal, they believe it should be built in a commercial zone.

Mattituck resident Joanne Lechner, one of five detractors to speak Monday, outlined several quality-of-life concerns, including added noise “from sunup until sundown” and more traffic, especially when the vacant Capital One and Hudson City Savings Bank buildings nearby are redeveloped.

She also believes the town’s definition of “private memberships” should be clarified in the code.

“It appears that any business that could offer annual membership could open on property that has been zoned residential with exceptions,” she said. “If the town approves this project on this land, then it’s opening up Pandora’s box.”

Ms. Lechner raised other concerns as well, including more sewage and runoff.

She asked that the property be preserved and said Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski had suggested during a recent civic meeting that the county is able to purchase it.

On Tuesday, Mr. Krupski confirmed that he had reached out to Sports East to let them know there’s another option.

“I wanted to make sure the landowner knew that there’s money available for open space preservation,” he said.

When asked if he believes the property should be preserved, Mr. Krupski said he supports a report the Town Board approved in 2008 that various stakeholders created in order to establish boundaries for downtown or hamlet center areas. In Mattituck, he said the land slated for Sports East was left out because they believed it should remain residential.

Mr. Pawlowski said he’s not interested in receiving preservation money from the county and plans to preserve about 70 percent of the wooded property.

“We’re offering a large part of preservation and privately funding something the town doesn’t have,” he said. “Pandora’s box? I don’t remember the last time this was proposed or anything of its kind. I find it hard to believe this will open any sort of Pandora’s box.”

While several residents voiced opposition to the proposal, the majority of the audience cheered when Mr. Pawlowski asked if they were in favor of the plan.

Throughout the meeting, he addressed each concern and said he and his partners will meet with town and state Department of Transportation officials to come up with the best plans for traffic flow, sidewalks and parking lot lighting. He has said that the outdoor fields will not be lit.

As for water quality concerns, Mr. Pawlowski said they’re in talks with the county Department of Health to install an alternative septic system it’s currently piloting to safeguard against nitrogen loading. Permeable surfaces are also included in the plans, he said.

Erik McKennaThe youngest of 10 supporters to address the Planning Board was 10-year-old Cutchogue East Elementary student Erik McKenna, who said he enjoys playing multiple sports.

“My friends and I are asking you to consider Sports East to come to our community because we need a place to do year-round activities,” he said. “You wouldn’t want us sitting around doing nothing all winter. You’d want us at Sports East staying fit and healthy.”

A pair of senior citizens also described long drives up-island for swimming exercise classes as burdensome and said they hope Sports East is approved.

The developers have said the facility would be similar to the Southampton Youth Services recreation center, which is located more than 40 minutes from Mattituck.

The town’s first public hearing on the Sports East proposal occurred Feb. 4 during Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. Although few people raised concerns about traffic and membership fees, reaction to the project from those in attendance was overwhelmingly supportive, as people said they believe there’s a lack of local recreational activities.

Following that meeting, the ZBA decided to leave the public hearing open for comment and is awaiting the results of a SEQRA study about potential environmental impacts, which the Planning Board has required as part of its own review of the site plan application. The ZBA is expected to hold an additional public hearing to discuss the SEQRA findings, which are still being finalized.

The Planning Board closed Monday’s hearing and is awaiting the SEQRA report.

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Photos: (Top) Mattituck resident Julie Amper. (Right middle) JABS owner Jill Schroeder. (Left middle) Cutchogue East Elementary student Erik McKenna. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo photos)

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect how it appears in the May 5, 2016 issue of The Suffolk Times.