By Claire Walla
There is a 50-acre sand pit on Millstone Lane in Bridgehampton that does more than process sand. There are also mulching and composting activities at the site, which residents in the area say are loud and smell badly—and are not legally part of what that facility is zoned to do.
The owners of the sand and gravel operation disagree.
The dispute between those who own and operate the Sand Land Corporation facility on Middle Line Highway in Noyac and the facility’s neighboring residents has been going on for years. Most recently, the issue was brought to last week’s Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting on November 17 as residents appealed a decision that essentially okayed the facility’s current mulching activities.
Southampton Town Chief Building Inspector Mike Benincasa ruled last June that the site was “pre-existing nonconforming” based on the fact that — as Sand Land’s lawyer, David Eagan, has argued — the business existed prior to 1957 when zoning laws were enacted. Sand Land was thus granted the “certificate of occupancy” it had been out to obtain since 2010. Benincasa’s decision essentially allows the business to proceed as is.
Residents are not happy.
Neighbor Jenice Delano said, “it’s really noisy.” Not only are there trucks traveling in and out of the property “all day long,” she said, “going, Beep! Beep! Beep!” she continued, abrasively imitating a car horn, but she said that part of the business’ activities includes crushing rocks.
“When they crush rock it’s earsplitting,” added Margot Gilman, who lives due south of Sand Land. “And sometimes there’s a low roaring in the background like the sound of lawnmowers from my neighbors.”
Not only that, Gilman continued, “The smell of the compost can be so overwhelming. There are days when I get to my house and it’s unbearable. And there are days when I wonder if my guests notice it.”
The business argues that mulch is created on-site to help with “reclamation.” The mulch is used to fill in the gaps and holes where sand has been dug-up, and it is generated on site for this purpose.
But according to Gilman and two other property owners listed in the lawsuit against the business, Sand Land still does not have the proper authorization for this usage. In a formal appeal drafted for the ZBA, Zachary Murdock, a lawyer working on behalf of the property owners, called the “certificate of occupancy” granted by Benincasa “unauthorized,” “illegal,” and unsupported by current evidence.
Prior to 1957, he argues, the property was not being used as it currently is.
Indicating an aerial photo taken in 1959, Murdock noted that “No sand pit or any disruption of vegetation in what became the pit is visible in this 1959 photo.”
Then, referencing an aerial photo taken in 1967, he pointed out the fact that Sand Land was well into its operation by then.
What’s more, he noted the minutes from a town ZBA meeting from 1961, in which the 25 acres of land in question is referred to as “scrub land.”
“Mining was clearly a proposed and not an existing use at the time,” he responded via email.
According to Delano, the residents’ appeal has raised a lot of issues for the town concerning the Sand Land property.
In fact, further complicating the matter, Delano referenced the fact that lawyers for the Sand Land property are now arguing that, because zoning laws changed again in 1972 to create a residential district, the Sand Land operation would only have had to exist in its current form prior to 1972 in order to be considered “pre-existing nonconforming.”
Murdock continued, “Inasmuch as the owner/operator has now redrawn the line in the sand, so to speak, at the point of the 1972 rezoning, we are focused as well on that as the crucial time for analysis.”
Gilman said she is hopeful this issue may begin to get resolved.
“It was made clear to the zoning board members that this is way more complicated than anything Benincasa was shown,” she added. “The positive thing about all this is that [Zoning Board of Appeals members] really did get interested in this [case].”
ZBA members have requested more information on the matter and aim to resume discussion after the holiday, at their next meeting January 16.