By ASHLEY HELMS
Some residents in the Village of Mamaroneck are concerned with the possible rezoning of Hampshire Country Club to help pave the way for the construction of condominiums on the club’s grounds. Although no formal application for rezoning is in front of village government, the topic has become a contentious campaign issue in this year’s local election.
The possibility of the Hampshire Country Club submitting a petition for zoning changes in order to build a condominium complex on its property has become a campaign issue in the Village of Mamaroneck. Though the club has not yet submitted any petition, community activists have asked officials for a position on the matter. Photo courtesy Hampshire Country Club
Incumbent Republicans Mayor Norman Rosenblum and Trustee Louis Santoro have said they were advised by legal council not to comment on the possibility of rezoning because a formal application to do so hasn’t been received by the village.
On the other hand, their Democratic opponents, mayoral candidate Clark Neuringer and trustee candidate Kerry Stein, said the incumbents should be obligated to comment so residents who feel strongly about the issue will know where the incumbents stand.
“I don’t know any politician that would hide behind the skirt of a piece of paper and refuse to talk about proposed laws,” Neuringer said. “As someone running for public office, you have an obligation to tell the people what you think about proposed law changes.”
Plans were displayed at Hampshire’s open house in January for a potential condominium building and parking garage on the club’s property where a clubhouse stands now. The club’s possible rezoning, as a campaign issue, centers largely on what was displayed at that time.
Neuringer said rezoning is a legislative action; a developer is attempting to change the law in order to build a certain structure. Instead of talking about specific development plans or Hampshire in particular, he said Rosenblum and Santoro should be able to safely take a stance on potential law changes. He noted the incumbents have commented on proposed zoning changes to the village’s industrial area.
Controversy surrounding Hampsh-ire Country Club has also come from other sources.
The Mamaroneck Coastal Environment Coalition mounted opposition in August to what it said are the club’s continued violations of the zoning code by holding non-member events without a required special permit, not filing a IRS Form 990 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 non-profit membership clubs only.
According to documents obtained by The Mamaroneck Review, village Fire Inspector William Ciraco submitted an order to remedy to the club on Sept. 21, stating that Hampshire did fail to obtain a special permit to hold non-member events and file the proper IRS form. The club is expected to obtain special permit documentation and file the necessary IRS paperwork retroactively from 2010 to 2012.
Celia Felsher, president of the Coastal Environment Coalition, said Hampshire officials consistently said they would file a petition for rezoning through the winter and spring, but became quiet in the summer. When the campaign season began to heat up this year, residents grew concerned with what the outcome of the election could mean for the landscape of Hampshire. Felsher said that, she believes an order to remedy was handed down because the coalition went public with information regarding the club’s alleged zoning code violations, but sees it as a stalling tactic before the election rather than the village taking action.
“There is a concern among various people that one of the reasons the club became quiet was because they did not want this to become a big election issue,” she said. “We feel that the delay of submitting a petition is that, if the challengers won, there would be a possibility that [the club’s] petition wouldn’t be accepted.”
Felsher said Rosenblum and Santoro are very “pro-development,” without understanding the possible implications of it and want Mamaroneck to be a destination spot. Condominiums won’t bring in extra revenue or help to lower taxes because they are taxed at a lower rate than single-family homes, she said.
Mayor Rosenblum said that the Board of Trustees is following the advice of legal council and that making a comment, even about theoretical zoning code changes, would be disrespectful to the legal process. If the board took a stance, he said, and didn’t follow that stance, if a developer wanted to change the zoning law, they could be open to criticism.
“I support the existing zoning, but you can look at it as long as you maintain a steady goal,” he said.
Based on Neuringer’s outspoken opinion about Rosenblum’s inability to comment on zoning changes, the mayor said Neuringer is pandering for votes from certain groups of people in the village.
“He’s focusing on one issue that is a non-issue; not real topics like flooding and taxes,” Rosenblum said.
Despite the Board of Trustees’ silence on the club’s rezoning, candidates running for county office have come out publicly and taken a stance against it.
Republican county legislator candidate John Verni, said that he would be against development at the club.
“As a resident of Orienta Point, I think that area should be preserved as green space and should not be overdeveloped, which would put further strain on our already taxed infrastructure,” Verni said.
His Democratic opponent, Rye City Councilwoman Catheri-ne Parker, also said that she is against rezoning at Hampshire Club, but also said, if elected to county office, she wouldn’t have jurisdiction over the issue.
“Since the proposed condo complex is at the heart of the flood-prone area of the property, it would provoke even more dangerous flooding in future storms,” she said.
The issue has been on the minds of many in the community and even came up during a recent debate in the village.
At an Oct. 9 League of Women Voters debate, the village candidates were asked if they supported Hampshire’s plan to request zoning code changes in order to build a condominium complex on its property.
The incumbents said they were advised by legal council not to comment.
Elisabeth Radow, president of the League of Women Voters, said the group sends out an email to its members before a debate in order to form questions for the candidates that would represent their concerns as a group.
“We want to reflect the questions of the voters and we review the feedback that we get. Based on it, we look at the numbers of the people who asked a question and the relevance and we make a decision,” Radow said.
According to Radow, the league has been asked to have a public forum specifically for the possibility of rezoning and subsequent development at Hampshire.
The debate question may have been premature since there isn’t a formal request or plan for zoning changes in front of village government, but the issue was important to league members based on the feedback it received, Radow said.
“It’s relevant in the community; people wanted to hear the question,” Radow said. “But maybe the question was too aggressively worded.”
Co-owner of Hampshire Country Club Dan Pfeffer could not be reached for comment as of press time.