By ASHLEY HELMS
Opponents of plans to develop on Hampshire Country Club’s golf course can celebrate a victory, at least for now.
A petition for rezoning aimed at developing luxury condominiums where a clubhouse currently stands on the club’s golf course, a proposal that received harsh criticism from some village residents, was unanimously defeated on Feb. 10 by the Village of Mamaroneck Board of Trustees.
The decision to strike down the petition was met with cheers from an audience that extended into the hallway at village court.
Hampshire Country Club, located at 1107 Cove Road, petitioned the Board of Trustees for a zoning change to build one of two proposed housing options. One would see the construction of 121 condominium units, while the other included 106 single-family units.
The club intended to gain approval from the board so it could rezone the property, located in the village’s marine recreation zone, to build the luxury homes.
Flooding was one of the top concerns for those who live in the area who feared that, because of the club’s close proximity to sea level, building condominiums would create a surface that was impervious to water, forcing it out into the neighborhoods. Obstructing the view of the Long Island Sound by the proposed housing units was an issue that came into play as well.
Hampshire needs the zoning change to carry out its plan since residential development is not allowed in the marine recreation zone, according to village code.
Republican Mayor Norman Rosenblum’s refusal to comment on issues of possible rezoning at Hampshire Club since fall 2013, and through the November election, had some residents sensing he would be in support of any development proposal.
Following Rosenblum’s decision to scratch the application for a zoning change, and the board’s unanimous vote to turn down the petition, the mayor said he felt the density of the development project didn’t meet the village’s comprehensive plan.
Even though the Board of Trustees rejected this application, the club could come back with a different proposal, Rosenblum said, and the idea of building some units at the club is still plausible.
”Basically what we turned down wasn’t a concept, but, in essence, was the specific proposal itself,” Rosenblum said.
Celia Felsher, president of the Mamaroneck Coastal Envir-onm-ental Coalition, a group of residents pushing for Hampshire’s reform—said she was pleased to see the petition turned down. She said she and other residents aren’t against the club, but want its activities and any building plans to be vetted transparently.
“I’m really gratified the board acted to deny the petition. I think it’s the right thing for the community,” Felsher said. “We all have to sit down in order to figure out what the best alternative for the property is going forward.”
What snowballed into several tense, but passionate verbal exchanges on Feb. 10, and even elicited intervention by a police officer, was preceded by a series of controversies at the club over the last several years.
Concerns over Hampshire’s housing idea began when plans for a potential condominium building and parking garage on the club’s property were displayed at a January 2013 open house. This was the crux of the current uproar, but the club’s operations were on the radar of some residents for at least two years before that.
New World Realty, a real estate advisory firm based in New York City, bought Hampshire Country Club in 2010 for $12 million after the club started to face financial difficulties. New World is the company that came up with the idea of developing the property for housing, which critics say is related to the purchase of the club and the need for New World Realty to turn a profit.
Hampshire Club owner Dan Pfeffer partnered with New World’s real estate advisor, Thomas Nappi, to co-operate the club.
In 2010, residents began complaining the club consistently hosted non-member events on the property, such as receptions, golf outings and dinners. Attendees were allegedly bussed onto the property to attend the events after the sale of the club.
Regarding the club’s petition for rezoning, Nappi told the Mamaroneck Review he thinks rezoning of the property and the construction of condominiums are good ideas for the club and would, in turn, provide elderly residents a place to live that’s still in the village.
“A lot of residents say there is a demand for this type of housing in the village. Empty-nesters want to stay in the village where they’ve raised their kids…these people have fewer people at home and they want to stay in the village, but they don’t want the expense of living in a single-family home,” Nappi said.
Nappi said New World Realty would agree not to build any additional housing if the current proposal was to be completed.
Jenn Kronick, a resident who lives near Hampshire Club, said she found fault with the club’s assertion it would be preserve green space in its development plans.
“For someone to say conservation was their goal, but then to petition to build a massive condominium project seemed counter to a conservation goal,” she said.
Felsher said most of the club’s- property, apart from where the condominiums would be built, isn’t able to be developed because it doesn’t meet FEMA’s requirements of being at least 16 feet above sea level.
“The club has said out of 160 acres at the club, 90 would stay green. In our view that’s a bogus argument because most of the property is not buildable now,” Felsher said.
In order to operate as a non-profit membership club in the village’s marine recreation zone, all of Hampshire’s events must be held for the sole benefit of the members, who are intended to be the deciding factor in who is granted membership to the club. The village code states that no more than 20 percent of the club’s total events can be for non-members, which is essentially an event that anyone could host by paying a fee to the club.
To hold non-member events in any capacity, the club is required to obtain a special permit from the village every three years. Hampshire hasn’t had such a permit since 2010 and is currently applying for the one in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals. This is a requirement for all four of the village’s beach clubs. All of the other clubs, including Mamaroneck Beach and Yacht Club—which some say operates in a similar fashion to Hampshire—hold a current special permit.
In August 2013, residents and members of Felsher’s coalition alleged multiple violations to the village zoning codes, such as holding non-member events without the required special permit, not filing an IRS Form 990—used for reporting non-profit finances with the village— and that Hampshire is, in reality, a for-profit corporation operating in the marine recreation zone, an area which, as designated by the zoning code, is for not-for-profit membership clubs only.
According to the village code, clubs in the marine recreation zone must annually file an IRS tax form 990 to the village clerk-treasurer and for-profit entities are not allowed in the marine recreation zone.
In September 2013, village Fire Inspector William Ciraco submitted an order to remedy to the club due to its failure to obtain a special permit.
Following the submission of an order to remedy, the village filed an injunction against the club in November 2013 in order to prohibit it from conducting any commercial or recreational activities and place a permanent stop on the club conducting any non-member events. The court case remains ongoing.