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Town may change code in move that would pave way for bigger cheer facility

After four years holding practice at the NOFO Wellness Center in Cutchogue, the North Fork Cheer team has quickly outpaced its main gym. 

Coaches have had to reduce by half, the size of the standard competition mat — which is 42 feet by 42 feet — to fit inside the practice space. As a result, running through routines is nearly impossible as the athletes are forced to leave out some tumbling passes.

“Then we’ll put it together on competition day,” said Stephanie Piraino, who co-owns the business with Lauren Berry.

Despite that, the group’s three teams excel. Just this year, they’ve earned 12 first-place titles and three national titles in competitions spanning the East Coast.

Their mounting growing pains are facing additional challenges due to Southold Town’s zoning rules, though officials are considering a change that could allow the team to find a new home.

Ideally, the group would like to use an existing vacant building located in an industrially zoned area in Cutchogue.

But their business is classified as professional, which isn’t a permitted use. Ms. Piraino said at a Town Board meeting Tuesday that the issue probably stems from “trying to put cheerleading in a box that it simply doesn’t fit into,” under town code.

She and Ms. Berry both noted that while they could find available commercial space, most existing buildings do not have the ceiling height required to allow their teams to practice stunts safely and building their own facility from the ground up is not currently an option.

Several dozen team members and their parents joined their coaches at the meeting, their medals clanking as various supporters spoke highly of their dedication and how a new space could transform the program.

Their concerns are not falling on deaf ears at Town Hall.

At a work session earlier Tuesday, officials discussed a proposal to allow recreational uses in the town’s Light Industrial and Light Industrial/Office zones by a special exception.

Supervisor Scott Russell said the special exception could serve several purposes, including reusing existing buildings or accommodating such facilities that often require larger buildings.

Under the current code, recreational uses are not permitted in LI zones. In LIO zones, recreational facilities are permitted on parcels larger than three acres.

According to principal town planner Mark Terry, there have been concerns regarding the impacts of recreational uses with neighboring industrial properties.

“We would have to look at the compatibility of such a use as proposed during that time under a SEQRA analysis,” he said, which would examine traffic and the impacts on quality of life. “You don’t want to have conflicts.”

Officials are considering limiting the scope to “minor recreational facilities” with only one or two dedicated uses. “That way you don’t generate the type of traffic and the type of public use you’d get from the major recreational facility,” Mr. Russell said.

Mr. Terry said that townwide, there are 177 acres of LIO zoned property and 263 acres of LI parcels that could provide recreational opportunities.

Earlier this year, officials approved a measure to create a “floating” recreational zone that allows the Town Board to make a case-by-case determination on recreational facilities for which a genuine need has been established, regardless of the underlying zoning.

The proposal essentially declared that additional health and wellness opportunities, where appropriate, would be provided to Southold Town residents, with fewer associated hurdles.

While the NOFO Wellness Center has been a great facility, the lack of space for the growing program — which comprises approximately 50 students — is becoming more of an issue, Ms. Piraino said.

“We’re doing the best we can with the space that we have,” she said, also adding that she fears they will begin losing kids to other gyms and programs.

Mr. Russell told the group Tuesday that the board would continue to work on a definition for “minor recreational facilities,” and hopes to have a draft of the proposed code amendment at the next meeting in two weeks. From there, it could move to a public hearing this summer, he said.

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