Whether or not a sandpit on Middle Line Highway in Noyac on the border of Bridgehampton is operating legally is an issue still being debated in court and in the Town of Southampton. The property includes several buildings constructed without building permits as well as cement and wood grinding, mulching and compost services neighbors say were never approved uses.
On Monday, the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee began as a discussion about an impending zoning board of appeals meeting regarding the property, owned by the Sand-Land Corporation, and how the committee could weigh in on the plant. But it turned into a debate over how best to wage the battle, and whether or not compromise was the most realistic solution moving forward.
Bridgehampton CAC member Jenice Delano, who was backed up by Noyac Citizens Advisory Committee co-chair Sherry Kiselyak, championed the discussion — both women toting reams of paperwork on Sand Land’s history.
“The entire site is in Noyac,” explained Kiselyak of the 50-acre property. “But we have been getting a lot of calls from Bridgehampton residents.”
According to research compiled during a now two-year legal battle waged by a small group of neighbors protesting the non-sand mining related portions of the operation, the first record of the business dates to 1961.
In court documents, Sand Land attorney David Eagan has argued that the business on the property existed prior to the town code’s adoption in 1957, making it pre-existing, non-conforming and therefore legal.
Since 2010, the corporation has been trying to obtain a certificate of occupancy for the property from the town that confirms that status.
“There is no evidence that it existed prior to the application for a variance for a portable screening plant in 1961,” said Kiselyak.
In 1961, the building inspector denied a request by Bridgehampton Sand and Gravel “for the use of the land to remove from there gravel and some sand by means of a portable screening plant,” according to the variance decision.
The zoning board of appeals did grant a variance to allow the plant, but Delano noted it was under the restriction that the business could do only what it proposed — a sand and gravel mining operation.
The board noted it would not be able to approve a variance for any application that resulted in a use that would “be noxious or offensive by reason of the emission of odor, dust, fumes, smoke, gas, vibration or noise.”
The decision also states that once the firm removed gravel, it “should not leave a large hole.” Viewing the property from an aerial perspective, Delano noted in an interview on Friday, it is clear that aspect of the variance has not been kept.
Other records dug up in the case include a 1995 correspondence between Wayne Bruen, then Southampton Town deputy town attorney, and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation regarding the Bridgehampton Material & Heavy Equipment Company’s request to allow composting on the property, an aspect of the business that continues today.
In that letter, Bruen writes that the “requested composting operation is considered to be a prohibited use” on the property, which is over an aquifer and is zoned residential. The letter noted that the landowners would need to file for a change of zone with the town board or seek a variance to allow composting on the site.
According to Delano, who has been in touch with the DEC regarding the application, it was never approved.
But according to a subsection of DEC law, some solid waste management and mining facilities do not need DEC permits, although businesses must register with the agency and file annual reports, which Sand Land has done.
Delano argues the company must still gain town permits to operate this kind of plant in a residential neighborhood. She added that the town — which uses the business’s composting facilities — has yet to respond to numerous inquires she made regarding the property.
In the meantime, three Southampton Town residents — Joseph Phair, Margot Gilman and Robert Flood — have filed suit to enjoin Sand Land from continuing to operate any uses on the site that are not legal under the town code.
According to their attorney, Zachary Murdock, Sand Land must prove the businesses operating on the site have been in use since before the town code was written in 1957.
In court documents, the company affirms it has been in business since before zoning was enacted in Southampton, with sworn affidavits filed by two employees, one now deceased, stating they worked on the property, composting on the site, prior to 1957.
However, Murdock has filed photographs of the property from 1963 and 1966 that show an active sand mine, but no other evidence of composting or other business uses.
While that case is pending, on August 18 the town’s zoning board of appeals will hear a variance application by Sand Land to legalize six buildings the town cited them for in 2006 for erecting without a building permit.
In a March 2009 letter to the zoning board, the Noyac CAC came out against the request, noting there is no certificate of occupancy for the property on file with the building department, although Sand Land has recently filed for a pre-existing certificate of occupancy.
The CAC further asks that the uses on the property be spelled out for the public, including uses in violation of the original zoning board decision, and it questions the amount of clearing on the site. They also ask the board look at truck traffic and its impact to the neighborhood.
“We question why they are before this board requesting variances at all, when all these structures can be built in a multitude of conforming locations throughout the site (provided the pre-existing can be proved),” the letter states.
Delano appeared to be trying to get the Bridgehampton CAC to file a similar letter, but while chairman Fred Cammann said he would coordinate efforts with the Noyac CAC, no formal action was taken.
“Is this a civics lesson that even though we have laws and they are not following the rules, the way forward is to ask them not to make too much noise,” asked a member of the audience.
“I think a lot of people have no idea how big it is,” said Donna D’Amiano. “At times the smell would literally knock you over.”
According to notes filed by Cammann after the meeting, the overall sense of the CAC is that the business may be illegal, but the most “realistic approach to minimizing the disturbance to the neighbors would be to enter discussions quietly with the owners of the business” on how it should be operated to reduce aggravation to neighbors.
“It was also the sense of the CAC that even if the necessary variances and permits are granted, the continuous operation of the business as it is presently conducted is unacceptable,” added Cammann.