August 30, 2006
Back And Forth At South Fork Hearing
All the members of the South Fork Country Club want to do is build a structure big enough to house maintenance equipment that's now stored haphazardly around the club's property on Abraham's Landing Road in Amagansett, according to club prez Alex Walter. He seemed nonplussed by the vehement opposition expressed by neighbors.
Over and over opponents, most of them residents of Abraham's Landing Road, predicted the ruination of their historic neighborhood should the East Hampton Town Planning Board approve the application. The old clubhouse, a cart barn and a separate pro shop would all be removed and replaced with one larger structure. At 7200 square feet, the proposed maintenance structure is 2000 square feet larger than what currently sits at the site. Still, critics labeled the proposed edifice "a big black box," a "shingled McFactory type building" and a "monstrosity" that would bring about the industrialization of the residential area. About a dozen speakers testified in opposition to the proposal.
In rebuttal, South Fork reps provided 42 letters from area residents, two with properties on either side of the targeted lot, in support of the project. Additionally, Larry Cantwell reminded that the site once housed all the club's activities. Golfers traveled in and out of the parking lot all day long. Parties were held in the evenings during the summer. Beyond maintenance personnel, all that traffic moved to Old Stone Highway when the new clubhouse was built several years ago.
Also, Cantwell reported that the proposed structure is almost half the size recommended by industry experts for a club South Fork's size.
Neighbor Blake Fleetwood offered the most passionate testimony against the application. Fleetwood said the new building would lead to increased traffic, some 140 vehicle trips per day, and "trucks all over the place." Referencing the movement of most club activity to the new building on Old Stone Highway, Cantwell said the club's consultants estimated traffic generation at fewer than 20 trips per day.
Fleetwood complained that the club failed to submit an accurate survey of the entire property, leaving off greens and other areas. Attorney Richard Whalen said a new survey had been submitted, and that it contains all aspects required by law. He said his clients would be happy to revise it to include additional items should planners wish.
Agricultural reserves have been encroached on, Fleetwood charged. Cantwell admitted that was true and reported that the areas have been designated out-of-bounds to club members and employees, a path has been removed and revegetated.
Finally, Fleetwood raised the specter of conflict of interest. Whalen served as town planning attorney back in the late '90s when South Fork's application for the new clubhouse was approved. Several years ago he purchased Land Marks, the consulting firm that took South Fork's earlier application to approval, subsequently inheriting many of its clients. While Fleetwood hinted that his prior work as planning attorney should prohibit him from representing clients before the planning board, there is no law against town attorneys representing clients before town agencies once they've left the taxpayer employ.
Fleetwood also looked askance at Cantwell's connections. Cantwell, an Amagansett native, is currently the administrator for the Village of East Hampton. He was once a member of the town planning board. However, South Fork received approval for its expansion in 1998. Cantwell served for one year, in 2000. Fleetwood said representatives from the club refused to meet with neighbors when asked to; leading him to believe an approval is "in the bag."
"There is no conflict here. That's just ridiculous," Cantwell said. "This is only shows Mr. Fleetwood's desperation and vindictiveness, that he makes these wild accusations."
Altogether 20 speakers testified during the hearing, which was closed last Wednesday night. Planning staff will now compile the comments for a report to be reviewed by the board at a future work session.