Editorial: Supervisor speaks out on Sports East proposal

Scott Russell did something unusual this week when he called reporters to Town Hall to say publicly that he supports the Sports East project for Mattituck.

He praised Paul Pawlowski, a developer of the proposed project, and said if Sports East can’t find a home on Main Road the town should consider a land swap or should help Mr. Pawlowski find another location.

“I emphatically support it and I also have a great deal of faith in Paul,” Mr. Russell told the small gathering of reporters. He went on to say he has a “deep commitment” to making Sports East happen — if not in Mattituck, then somewhere else in Southold.

He characterized the Sports East proposal as something the town desperately needs.

On Thursday evening, the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted to uphold its earlier decision not to approve the project. So, for now, this proposal on that site on Route 25 is dead.

Desperately may be overstating it a bit, but the backdrop to the project supports the supervisor and the goal of moving forward in some form somewhere. In December 2016, The Suffolk Times pointed out that the YMCA website for Long Island shows locations in East Hampton, Brookhaven, Islip, Huntington and Oyster Bay — but nothing on the North Fork.

With all its great facilities, such as an indoor swimming pool, a YMCA would be terrific for the North Fork. Over the past decade or so, there have been unsuccessful proposals for YMCAs in Peconic, Aquebogue, Riverhead and Calverton. They all went away for various reasons, leaving the Sports East proposal as the only similar plan that comes close. Ground was recently broken on the Suffolk County Community College campus in Riverhead for a $22 million sports and wellness center – good news for the North Fork.

Mr. Pawlowski and a partner, Joe Slovak, had come up with a plan that would have benefitted young and older people across the region. Mr. Russell was right to say Sports East would be a major plus for Southold, just as Laurel Links — a similar membership-type club a half-mile west of the proposed Sports East site — was a boon to serious golfers who want to play on the North Fork.

The ZBA’s decision has changed all that. The ZBA’s sticking point has been the issue  of how the town’s zoning codes are written, particularly in relation to the “membership club” issue, which Sports East would have been. Costco is a membership business. It’s safe to say few people in Southold would want a Costco on that wooded site in Matttituck.

In an email on Tuesday, the day after Mr. Russell’s comments to reporters and before the ZBA’s Thursday evening ruling, Mr. Slovak laid out the reasons to find a home for Sports East: “We don’t lack for much out here on the North Fork, but what we do lack is consequential in so many ways. Sports East will fill that void, the one that exists throughout most of the year when outdoor activities are relatively scarce and nonexistent due to the weather.

“The existence of the YMCA is due to the need for people to engage in healthy activities that promote wellbeing and a sense of belonging within a community … A facility like this, with its diverse offerings, will become a place for residents to gather and participate in healthy quality of life activities.”

Mr. Slovak went on to say Sports East could become a training facility for younger athletes, especially those who must now travel to other facilities far away from the North Fork. He said local schools could also use the facility.

“There are so many positives for something like this, with no downside, that it demands we come together as a community at all levels to make this happen,” Mr. Slovak wrote.

With the ZBA’s ruling, it is now up to the community to find a solution.