Nearly three months after a multi-sport athletic facility proposed for Main Road in Mattituck was seemingly left for dead, the project is getting a second lease on life.
Sports East will be the subject of a Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6. The partners behind the proposed indoor-outdoor facility are seeking a ZBA interpretation of whether the proposal meets the definition of a membership club as outlined by town code. If so, the plan could move forward as a special exception use under current zoning.
Should Sports East receive ZBA approvals, the partners behind the project could then restart the site plan process before the town Planning Board.
“We were always excited that we had another hearing coming up and that we could still take this proposal to the finish line,” said Joe Slovak of Laurel, who along with tech CEO and part-time New Suffolk resident Steve Marsh and developer Paul Pawlowski of Mattituck proposed the facility last year for a parcel owned by Mr. Pawlowski.
Sports East would feature a “state-of-the-art” gym, indoor and outdoor turf fields and tennis courts, an indoor pool and indoor running track at a wooded parcel on the south side of Main Road, just west of Sigsbee Road. The partners have also vowed to keep memberships “affordable,” though no specific business plan has ever been disclosed.
Southold Town attorney Bill Duffy said that while the Sports East site plan was formally withdrawn following a heated July 11 Planning Board meeting, the proposal always remained in front of the ZBA.
At the July meeting, Mr. Pawlowski balked at a planning staff recommendation that a “positive” SEQRA declaration be issued, a move that would force the project to undergo further environmental studies.
Mr. Pawlowski said the partners had already spent more than $100,000 on the project and the additional studies — which he and attorney Charles Cuddy said they didn’t view as necessary — would double that amount.
“Through all the pre-planning … we mitigated every possible aspect when it comes to [environmental review],” he said at the time. “To have this happen four months later is outright disgusting.”
With the site plan withdrawn, the SEQRA process has stalled, Mr. Duffy said.
But Mr. Slovak said that because the ZBA hearing was already in the works, the Sports East partners decided to see how that plays out before possibly reintroducing a site plan.
“[The ZBA interpretation] is really likely to determine where we go from here,” he said.
That could mean making changes to the proposal based on the ZBA, Planning Board and community feedback, Mr. Slovak added.
“A lot of people view this as a zero-sum game,” he said. “We think there is plenty of room for compromise and we’re willing to do that.”
Mr. Slovak also noted that, independently of his own efforts, a group of community members has started an online petition to muster support for the project. In just a couple days, that petition has gathered more than 375 signatures.
“The comments that many people are putting with their signatures tells me many people feel very passionate about this [project],” said Jen Becker of Southold, who created the petition after seeing her friends urge people to speak before the ZBA.
Mr. Slovak said community support will be key to moving the project forward.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find another proposal that better fits all the demographics of the town,” said Mr. Slovak, a physical education teacher. “Public support for such a facility is the No. 1 factor why I’m still involved at this point.”