December 06, 2006
Skate Rink Managers Rebut Charges
Douglas DeGroot, who runs Buckskill Winter Club in East Hampton with his wife Kathryn, this week refuted charges that their club opened in 2004 without permits. It opened with the permit required at the time, he said.
Town officials had no reference for regulating skating rinks at tennis clubs, as Buckskill was the first to pursue the use. According to Douglas, Chief Building Inspector Don Sharkey and he filled out that first building permit together. In fact, DeGroot said that as the improvements began, Sharkey came to the club and told the couple everything looked fine. Last year, as controversy about the club swirled, Sharkey said the couple misled him about the scope of the project. DeGroot said that is not true. "When he came here he told us 'It's not what we expected but you're not doing anything you're not allowed to do.'"
The club opened and was instantly immensely popular with local families looking for a healthy and fun way to spend winter afternoons. Neighbors, however, complained about the volume of traffic, and noise from equipment used for ice. In the ensuing year electric service to the site was upgraded to avoid the need for a noisy generator.
In December of 2004 the town board enacted a code amendment speaking to converting tennis courts to skating rinks. It required operators to procure building permits for conversions. Later in 2005, however, the board revised the law further, setting out more stringent and complicated requirements, which included a mandate that clubs like Buckskill obtain site plan approval.
The law was enacted and according to DeGroot, although the club felt it had pre-existing status under the earlier law, Buckskill voluntarily began the site plan approval process in September of 2005. Given the amount of time pursuing an application takes — hiring experts to answer questions from the planning board took weeks, according to DeGroot — there was no time to complete the application before it was time to open last winter.
On the advice of attorneys who warned the club could lose its pre-existing status, the DeGroots opened. Neighbor complaints increased in volume and the town began to issue daily summonses, threatening to shut the club down. Patrons rallied, presenting a petition to the town boasting hundreds of signatures. The town board relented, allowing the club to remain open, with the proviso that the DeGroots continue the application process.
They have done just that, DeGroot said. Simultaneously last spring, the couple appealed Sharkey's refusal to issue a certificate of occupancy for the club to the town Zoning Board of Appeals. The ZBA upheld Sharkey's refusal and late last month the couple filed an Article 78 proceeding in State Supreme Court, looking to overturn the ZBA decision.
In court papers, the club's attorneys argue, "The seasonal ice rink was constructed as it was described for the Chief Building Inspector and in compliance with the Building Permit that he issued." It was "arbitrary and capricious" for Sharkey to decide and for the ZBA to support the decision that the club failed to comply with items that were not specified in the permit.
Meanwhile, the site plan application continues to be reviewed by town planners. At the last go-round in the beginning of November, board members raised concerns about the parking configuration and lights. This week DeGroot complained that, after all this time, at the last meeting the board asked him to go to the health department for a review of the sanitary system.
"We're willing to address every concern the board has," he said, "But I think it should be done with a procedure in place, so it can be completed in a timely manner."
Officials gave the DeGroots a list of information they wanted well over a year ago. The club operator contends the list keeps changing.