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Town Votes Yes To Mecox Sailing Association

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By Claire Walla

The decision was unanimous. All five members of the Southampton Town Board voted on Tuesday, October 25 to enter into a license agreement with the Mecox Sailing Association which proposes to open a sailing school at the end of Bay Lane in Water Mill.

“I’m very pleased with the actions of the board last night,” explained Jeff Mansfield, a Bridgehampton resident who is spearheading the effort to turn the dilapidated site of the old Mecox Yacht Club into a new not-for-profit sailing association.

Members of the newly formed Mecox Sailing Association have waited two years for the Southampton Town Board to finally weigh-in on the issue. But, he continued, “At the same time it’s a bit bittersweet.”

The Mecox Sailing Association and the town of Southampton have been slapped with a lawsuit by a collection of Water Mill homeowners calling themselves the Mecox Bay Civic Association. The homeowners challenged the legality of the town’s wetlands permit, charging that the Mecox Sailing Association should not be allowed to clear away vegetation in a designated wetlands area. (Bram Weber, the lawyer representing the homeowners, could not be reached for comment.)

“It’s a frivolous lawsuit,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. She went on to explain that the lawsuit was brought on by a group of homeowners, most of whom live on Bay Lane, which dead-ends into Mecox Bay.

“This is just a blatant example of [a private group] that happens to have a lot of money behind it,” she added,

The proposed Mecox Sailing Association “is a very low-key plan to teach kids from all walks of life to sail,” she continued. “The fact that that kind of money gets thrown in[to this scenario], I think is in really poor taste.”

Members of the Mecox Bay Civic Association have been fighting the Mecox Sailing Association since its proposed plan for a sailing school was put before the board in 2010. In the past, residents have complained about expected issues with traffic, parking and the school’s presumed exclusivity.

Mansfield has rejected these claims.

Though the current lawsuit takes issue with the fact that the town approved the clearing of vegetation in a wetlands area, Throne-Holst added that she believes the town and the Mecox Sailing Association are in the right.

“It’s town land, and we got the clearing permit,” she added.

For Mansfield, the suit filed against the sailing association and the town has less to do with the sailing school itself, and more to do with what he believes stems from homeowners’ efforts to maintain privacy. In fact, it’s an issue he said has resonated across the East End in recent months.

“There’s been an epidemic recently of individuals trying to block beach access,” Mansfield declared.

He pointed to the recent legal fight over a stretch of beach in Nappeague and this summer’s clash in Noyac over beach parking.

“It’s scary for our little group [the Mecox Sailing Association] because it’s quite costly to fight these battles,” he added. “We’re just a couple of mothers and fathers defending this.”

“If we don’t come together as a community,” Mansfield added, “We’re going to lose this access.”

Now that the sailing association has finally entered into a license agreement with the town, Mansfield said members will be putting their efforts into raising money to fight the legal battles before them. He said the group has applied for 501c3 status, which he expects to be achieved by year’s end. This would make all donations to the Mecox Sailing Association fully tax deductible.

Mansfield explained rather lightheartedly that he and other sailing association members initially expected to have the whole operation up and running last summer. Suffice it to say, the process has been a bit more elongated than he had predicted. And with a lawsuit now in the picture, he said he has no idea how long it will take before the sailing association will actually be able to begin clearing the small patch of land on the bay — if, of course, it wins the lawsuit.

“We’re not about to abandon ship here,” Mansfield added. “We have only yet begun to fight.”

Mecox Yacht Club Waits for OK

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By Claire Walla

The Southampton Town Board is close to making a decision on whether or not to grant an operating license to the Mecox Sailing Association at the end of Bay Lane in Water Mill. But—with an important permit still pending—the board is not yet ready to weigh-in fully on the case.

After receiving approval from the DEC on June 16, the board is now waiting from the town Conservation Board to see whether or not plans provided by the Mecox Sailing Club to develop the land would be approved. (The Southampton Town Conservation Board met last night at 7 p.m., shortly after this paper went to press.)

At a town board meeting last Tuesday, July 9, Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said that the town would have to hear back from the conservation board before meeting again with homeowners (many of whom are opposed to the plan) and those representing the proposed sailing club to “iron out” some of the remaining issues both parties have. The town is set to address the issue again at a board meeting September 13.

Assistant Town Attorney Katie Garvin explained that the DEC permit would now allow the sailing club to restore the existing boathouse, “selectively” cut some vegetation in the area and to construct three boat racks on the property. The conservation board will weigh-in on whether the club should be allowed to selectively cut, as Garvin phrased it, “nuisance vegetation.”

“If we don’t get the permit, then I’d like to explore with the conservation board what their alternatives are, or what their issues would be with the plans [as they are now],” Garvin said.

Many community members living on Bay Avenue (which ends at Mecox Bay, where the sailing club is proposed to be built) and nearby Wheaton Way spoke-out at the town board meeting against the plan. Residents primarily cited issues of increased traffic, environmental concerns, fears of property devaluation and even privatization.

“For the life of me, I do not understand why our town and our bay would benefit from privatizing this public space,” said Water Mill resident Stormy Byorum Good.  “I don’t understand what we would benefit from that we don’t have today.”

Similarly, Bay Avenue resident Ted Vittoria said “we have people walking down that street on a regular basis. We have workers who go with their trucks on their lunch hour just to look at the beauty of the bay. If the proposal is allowed, I think it’s going to affect these people to have clear viewing of this beautiful property for free.”

Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said the site plan, as proposed will not restrict beach access in any way. Supervisor Throne-Holst added: “the only thing it would do is allow for an entity to provide organized instruction there and the ability to store some boats and equipment there.”

In a statement issued by representatives for the homeowners, the Mecox Bay Civic Association further added that the details of the plan to develop the land and install a sailing school are still undefined.

However, Throne-Holst reiterated that the finer details of the site proposal will be addressed once the town board hears from the Conservation Board.