Much to the chagrin of two of its neighbors, the Sag Harbor Methodist Church is moving right along with plans to open its basement classroom space to Our Sons and Daughters preschool program. If all goes according to plan, the 12-student program, for children ages 3 to 7, would be housed at the church starting this September.
“We’ve heard from other property owners that there’s been a positive impact on the area because of the church,” said Diane Lavery, an attorney for the church, at a Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meetings last Thursday, April 5. “Since the church has been there, property values have increased.”
Neighor Pam Wright staunchly disagreed.
“There’s going to be more commercial traffic to the area: supplies being dropped off, trash being picked up… It’s going to [negatively] affect our property values,” she said. “This church has already affected our neighborhood.”
Wright and her neighbor Linda Velsor, who also attended last week’s meeting, expressed concern with the notion of increased traffic in the area due to an added preschool/kindergarten program on site. While Lavery explained the 13-student school doesn’t intend to grow any larger than 30 students, that didn’t sit well with Wright and Velsor, who also worried about the potential for more growth—including summer programs.
Again, Lavery attempted to quell their concern.
“The summer camp is run at the Ludlow Farm, and [Our Sons and Daughters] plans to do that in the future,” she explained. And as for the increased population at the church, Lavery further noted that the school has board meetings four times a year, bringing about four to five people in each time, as well as one monthly administrative meeting for which 10 to 12 people typically show up.
Adding to a laundry list of complaints, Velsor said she is also concerned with the level of noise during school hours when the kids go outside for recess.
“It’s a situation that we want to be aware of,” she added. “Because children at that age are not quiet when they’re outside.”
That may be true, Pastor Tom Mcleod noted, but he said the outdoor area was strategically built 8 feet below grade for that very reason: to stifle noise. In fact, the church had been considering holding its own Sunday School or pre-school programs on its grounds when the church was initially constructed. Mcleod said he was very conscious of the noise issue, and made sure the outdoor play area was constructed below grade so that it would have natural noise buffers.
“These kids would have to be having a major rock concert to be heard on Carroll Street,” he added.
Finally, Velsor expressed disappointment over the notion of increased traffic that would be brought by the new school. “I feel the increase in traffic on that road would be very hazardous to the area,” said Velsor, who lives on Carroll Street. “Cars come down faster than the speed limit, and they go racing up Carroll Street.”
However, as attorney Lavery explained, the planning board already adopted the building plan, which allowed the church to create a building with an occupancy of 200.
“We’re only talking about adding 13 additional cars to an existing 65-parishioner church,” she said. “We’re not talking about enlarging the impact.”
Board member Adam Grossman said he understood Velsor’s concerns, but added “I’m not sure what we can do to address traffic except not issue the variance.”
More importantly, he said the planning board is in support of the project. Planning Board Chair Herbert Phillips added that for this 128,000-square-foot lot—which can legally be divided into eight spaces—“to have an accessory use there really isn’t a burden.”
The ZBA is currently waiting for the final SEQRA determination to be approved by the Southampton Town Planning Board before it makes its final decision.
Before moving on to the next issue, board member David Reilly addressed the two women: “I have a feeling your parade of horribles is just not going to come to fruition,” he said.