By Amy Patton
Southampton Town’s Parks and Recreation Department has stepped in recently to consider aiding a local group that is hoping to revive the use of a decades-old sailing club at the end of Bay Lane in Mecox Bay.
It’s called the Mecox Sailing Association.
The 10-acre, town-owned property that abuts the shores of the bay houses a tiny shack that was once known as the Mecox Bay Yacht Club. It’s a structure that the head of the MSA group, Bridgehampton resident Jeff Mansfield, hopes to turn once again into storage for roughly 12 non-motorized sailboats and a base for offering sailing lessons mainly to children and young adults in the summer.
“Our goal is to promote community sailing down at this spot which is a town park. It’s also at the end of a town road and Mecox Bay is a public waterway,” he said in an interview this week.
However, Mansfield’s association, which began admittedly as a private one that is asking now for public donations and town support, said it’s been battling homeowners in the area for the right to use the property in such a way.
Concerns about traffic, parking and a lack of sanitation facilities at the site led the group of Bay Lane homeowners to hire counsel and fight the plan.
The attorney for the homeowner’s association, Bram Weber, said in an interview Tuesday that his clients’ objections rest with the issue of the MSA’s prior “lack of transparency” in its end goal for the property.
“[Mansfield] was talking about a private club with private memberships and regattas being held on Sundays,” said Weber. “Yet he also mentioned at town meetings about having public sailing lessons that would be offered to everyone.”
The attorney added, “We were never given a level of comfort as to what would actually be going on there.”
After a series of hearings on the matter, Southampton Town last year approved the idea of using its waterfront parkland for the MSA sailing club. Later, however, it was confronted with a legal block in the form of a restraining order by the Mecox Homeowners Association that was mostly related to zoning and building regulations.
Those queries brought into question the adherence of town code regulations while repairing the small shed on the property.
According to the town attorney’s office, two lawsuits in opposition to the plan are still pending. However, Southampton Parks and Recreation head Chris Bean has gone on record to announce the town’s plans to move ahead with supporting the MSA’s sailing club in spite of the legal challenges of the neighbors at the site.
Said Mansfield, “Quite frankly, I think this is a clear case of Hamptons NIMBYism at its worst. Through their lawyer, they have offered to finance a sailing venue somewhere else. They just don’t want it at the end of their road.”
He added, “You can hide behind the traffic and the noise it might generate. But the truth is nearly all the activity of such a sailing club takes place out on the water. The noise of landscapers working in the area, parking there and running their leaf blowers all the time to service those properties creates more of a nuisance than a sailing club would.”
“My clients just want an opportunity to work with the town on this,” countered Weber. “So our solution is a proposal to help pay for a sailing club on Scott Cameron Beach. It has a parking lot, bathroom facilities, and lifeguards which Mecox Bay Park doesn’t have.”
“People say our best asset out here are the beaches; but I say the best asset is the people,” responded Mansfield. “This club would be a great way for people to meet others out in the community, to meet their neighbors and for kids to get out there in the bay and sail together.”