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Sports East faces hurdle after Planning Board questions use

Paul Pawlowski

The private sports facility proposed for Mattituck was dealt an unexpected blow last week when the chairman of the Southold Town Planning Board wrote a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals questioning whether the facility would fall under the allowable use as a membership club. 

Planning Board chairman Donald Wilcenski wrote the letter May 31 stating that “several people asked how such an apparently intense commercial use could be allowed in a residential zone.”

The indoor/outdoor athletic complex, proposed by developer Paul Pawlowski and business partners Joe Slovak and Steve Marsh, did not need a change of zone from the town when the project was first proposed because the property’s existing residential zoning allows annual membership clubs with a special exception from the ZBA.

Now, the Planning Board is questioning whether the project could be considered an annual membership club, according to Mr. Wilcenski’s letter.

“We were absolutely caught off guard,” Mr. Pawlowski said. “There’s a very, very small group of people that have concerns of that nature. However, every chance we got we were able to have, every public forum, every planning board, every public hearing, we’ve rebuked those claims.”

A Riverhead attorney representing the developers responded to Mr. Wilcenski’s letter by calling it “innocent in form, but damming in substance.”

“I attended the Planning Board hearing and read the minutes of the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing and do not find the specific issues highlighted in the memorandum were raised by anyone,” attorney Charles Cuddy wrote in a June 1 letter.

Part of the Planning Board’s concerns, according to Mr. Wilcenski, centers on whether Sports East would host sports tournaments that bring in non-member participants and spectators.

Mr. Pawlowski said in an interview that those types of tournaments have never been in the proposal.

“The only difference between us and the other private membership clubs in the area is we’re offering a little more sports,” he said. “That’s the only difference.”

The Planning Board also questioned whether daycare would be offered at the facility. In Mr. Cuddy’s response, he said that it would not. He went on to question the intent of Mr. Wilcesnki’s letter.

“It undermines the application before the Zoning Board and whether acknowledged or not, it is a veiled attempt to influence another Board’s proceedings and deliberation,” Mr. Cuddy wrote.

Mr. Pawlowski said while this changes the course of the proposal, he’s eager to get back on track. The next step would be bringing the project before the ZBA so the special exception can be approved, he said. After that, they would finalize the site plan application with the Planning Board, he said.

“If the outcome is negative, it’s a big loss for our community,” he said.

At the most recent public hearing on Sports East in early May, several residents questioned the project, saying it could hurt small businesses and increase traffic and noise. The majority of speakers, however, spoke in favor of it.

The 82,500-square-foot health club on Main Road would be the area’s first indoor sports facility, complete with a swimming pool, synthetic field for multiple sports, basketball court, four tennis courts, two batting cages, a gym, space for yoga, spin classes and locker rooms. Outdoor athletic fields are proposed closer to Main Road.

The proposal received a vote of approval last week from the Suffolk County Planning Commission, which provides site plan recommendations.

Photo Caption: Developer Paul Pawlowski speaks at a public hearing in February. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo, file)

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