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.”
The proposed Mecox Sailing Association—which aims to set-up shop on Mecox Bay in Water Mill—has finally overcome environmental hurdles and now only faces backlash from a group of Water Mill residents as its application with the town remains on the table.
Nearly a year-and-a-half ago, the town of Southampton put the land where the former Mecox Yacht Club existed up for bid. It has been considering an application from the Mecox Sailing Association ever since.
Assistant Town Attorney Katie Garvin, who is overseeing the case, told town board members at a regularly scheduled meeting last Tuesday, September 13 that over the course of several public hearings they have heard enough information from both sides of the issue to make a decision on the matter. And she advised the town board to officially close the public hearing.
The application comes from a group of Bridgehampton and Water Mill residents who put an application together to refurbish the dilapidated building still sitting on Mecox Bay at the tail end of Bay Lane. The goal is to revive the former yacht club as a not-for-profit sailing association, which would offer small-scale sailing classes for kids, as well as sailing opportunities for Southampton Town residents.
“The vision that we seek to implement is to recapture the simplicity and timeless quality of the former Mecox Yacht Club, that has existed in this exact location the better part of the last century,” said Bridgehampton resident Jeff Mansfield on behalf of the Mecox Sailing Association. “We hope to recapture this by creating a non-exclusionary, not-for-profit family-friendly sailing association, where local children can learn to sail and local families can enjoy sailing on Mecox Bay.”
The board had been waiting to make a decision on whether or not to enter into a license agreement with the applicant while the Southampton Town Conservation Board and the New York State Department of Environmental Conseravtion (DEC) surveyed the site. And on September 9, Garvin said the conservation board officially issued the town a wetlands permit, allowing the Mecox Sailing Association to develop the waterside property for the organization’s intended use.
Throughout the application process, the Mecox Sailing Association has been attacked by a group calling itself the Mecox Bay Alliance. Composed mostly of local homeowners, group members have primarily cited concerns with the potential for increased traffic on Bay Lane, the lack of parking at the end of the road and what they feel to be the exclusive nature of the association.
“The Mecox Sailing Association would not be a private club,” Mansfield said with an emphasis on “not.” The lead representative for the association, Mansfield has maintained that the sailing school would be open to all members of Southampton Town, and the Mecox Sailing Association would be in a lease-agreement with the town.
According to group’s intended plan, the school would remain in operation from May 15 through September 15 and would hold classes two days a week for children aged nine years and older, with classes of no more than 10 children at a time.
Furthermore, he said, “The Mecox Sailing Associaiton is not an attempt by a select few to secure a place to keep their private boats.” All boats held on the property, he added, would be “house boats,” and would not be privately owned by individuals.
The sailing association, he continued, would be for the “promotion of sailing for those in our community who are not fortunate enough to live on or near the water, and all those in our community who are not fortunate enough to afford a boat, a trailer, expensive mooring fees or private yacht club dues.”
According to Garvin, the Mecox Bay Alliance has filed suit against the town, challenging the credibility of the wetlands permit that was issued earlier this month by the conservation board. “This permit has been challenged in an order to show just cause,” she informed the board.
However, Garvin continued to say, “at least for this public hearing we have an idea of what the conservation board thinks of the project.” The board ultimately approved of it on the condition that the town brings a botanist on-site with Chief Environmental Analyst Marty Shea as plans move forward.