With hints at gambling, admission charges, drinking and running commercial enterprises in residential homes, residents from the Harbor Boulevard area in Springs appeared before the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday night, seeking relief from what they believe is a neighborhood blight – volleyball games.
The games draw more than 50 people per outing and, according to Silvia Rea, whose property is adjacent to one site, run three days a week "every single weekend year round." With the number of cars on the small roadway, as many as 30, Rea said, "I can't get out of my street." She can't sit on her back deck or enjoy her pool and has spent thousands planting trees to block the intrusion, which has been going on for the past three years.
Connie Kenney lives several doors away from the volleyball house. "Local residents have been suffering for years," she said. Admission charged, beer and food sales are all issues that cry out for code enforcement, she said. The list of people who are protesting the activity "is growing daily," Kenney said.
On Thursday night, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley opined the activities mentioned, "are in complete violation of the code."
However, police and code enforcement officers inspected the house following a noise complaint on Saturday and, according to town Director of Ordinance Enforcement Betsy Bambrick, there were just 25 people on the property, where 50 is the threshold triggering the need for a mass gathering permit. All cars were contained on site, and the home itself is incompliance. "The inside looks good," she said, emphasizing there was no sign the kitchen was used for anything other than basic family meals. No violations were issued.
Bambrick reported that there are several other properties in Springs where owners have received volleyball-related notices of violation. Often they stem from erecting nets and attempting to make them permanent structures. As a structure, the nets must adhere to setback requirements. Volleyball hosts can get around that particular code transgression by simply taking the nets down after matches.
A lot of the games are not illegal, Public Safety Division Administrator Pat Gunn said Monday. With the exception of issues relating to a public health hazard, the code enforcement department doesn't have the power to shut violating activities down immediately. "We have a process to go through," he explained. Officials have not been able to establish proof that proprietors of the games are operating illegal for-profit businesses in residential zones. To make a case of gambling or admission fees, enforcers would need someone who attended them willing to go on record as having paid.
More complaints about the Harbor Blvd/Gardiners Lane/President Street area were brought to the town board by John Camillo, who lives on Delavan Street. He listed a slew of commercial vehicles that have been parked on residential property in the neighborhood, as well as other symptoms of a neighborhood on the decline due to code violations. Although she could not detail specifics, Bambrick said there are pending charges against one of the properties mentioned.
Complaints of allegedly illegal volleyball tournaments in East Hampton first arose back in 2000. Neighbors, also in Springs, lamented activity that shattered the quiet enjoyment of their homes.
At the same time, other community members complained about the lack of adequate recreational facilities in town. Then-supervisor Jay Schneiderman attempted to address both problems by creating new volleyball sites at a local park. At least one of the houses was taken to Justice Court and over time ceased to operate.
In 2003 then-councilwoman Diana Weir debuted her "Neighborhood Preservation" legislation. Designed to address a variety of quality of life complaints, the law prohibited homeowners from hosting more than three outdoor gatherings of over 25 people per month. For more than three such events, the host would have to pursue approval from the town board.
At the time, the law required permits for any gatherings comprised of over 100 people. Weir's law was not passed as initially proposed, and the current code sets 50 people as the trigger for requiring a permit.