By ASHLEY HELMS
As debate over the zoning compliance of activities at Mamaroneck Beach and Yacht Club continue, those on both sides of the issue turned their attention to an IRS 990 tax form and if it is necessary in determining whether or not the club conforms to village zoning.
The club was in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals again on Feb. 6.
The club is required to file an IRS 990 form annually with the village to operate as a not-for-profit membership club as outlined in the village zoning code. The club filed the form in 2012, but has not since.
In addition, the tax form that the club filed in 2012 was an IRS 990 EZ, an abridged form of the standard 990.
According to the code, clubs in the marine recreation zone must annually file an IRS tax form 990 with the village clerk-treasurer. The submitted tax forms must be either a 990 or 990T, according to the code.
Membership clubs in the marine recreation zone are permitted to hold non-member events, but they may not exceed 20 percent of the total number of events held at the club.
Membership clubs are the only type of organization allowed in the marine recreation zone.
Critics say, given the nature of the way Beach and Yacht determines membership, virtually every event held at the club could be seen as a non-member event. A member event is an activity for the benefit of its members only, while a non-member event, as critics say Beach and Yacht handles them, is one in which anyone is allowed to pay a fee to the club to become a member in order to hold an event, such as a wedding.
The club has said the zoning codes are vague in how they define member events and non-member events.
According to the code, any club event that is not restricted to club members only is considered a non-member event by the village. A special permit to hold such events, which the club has, must be renewed every three years, but non-member events must not exceed 20 percent of the total events held at the club, according to the code, which does not specifically outline what member events are.
The discussion was a continuation of heated public hearings in front of the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals regarding zoning compliance of the club following building inspector Bill Gerety’s determination in April 2013 that an amended site plan application to build a new yacht building at the club, located at 555 South Barry Ave., was zoning compliant. This is what caused residents to mount continued opposition to the club’s practices.
The Zoning Board of Appeals is now trying to pinpoint what exactly are the activities taking place at the club, if the activities are detrimental to the community and if they are permitted by the village’s zoning codes.
Opponents of the club’s operations, including the Shore Acres Property Owners Association, say Beach and Yacht is a for-profit enterprise that, essentially, has become a catering hall for weddings and bar mitzvahs provided to anyone who is interested and can pay a fee to the club to hold an event.
In one particular instance at a Planning Board meeting on Dec. 6, Gabrielle Cohen, a Mamaroneck resident and opponent of the club’s current operations, said when she researched Mamaroneck Beach and Yacht on the Internet, wedding vendors, including TheKnot.com, list the club as a wedding venue. According to Cohen, based on comments on the website, there have been at least seven weddings at the club since May. Cohen assumes these weddings were for non-members.
The Shore Acres Property Owners Association—a homeowners group that has been serving as a community watchdog and pushing for reform of the club’s practices—and its legal counsel, Debra Cohen, argue that, because the club hasn’t filed a 990 with the village since 2012, there isn’t adequate data on what events are member events or non-member events at the club.
Debra Cohen said there also isn’t a breakdown of the club’s specific income sources and expenses, which would be included in a 990 form. For this reason, Debra Cohen said Gerety was unable to properly decide if the club was zoning compliant. The Zoning Board of Appeals should be unable to make a decision if the club is zoning compliant for these same reasons, she said.
“This board needs a factual basis for determining that the club is in compliance,” Debra Cohen said.
Opposition to the club’s activities by SAPOA has been ongoing, with action against the club on the group’s behalf gaining momentum this past summer.
In July 2013, SAPOA issued a letter to the village Planning Board saying it found a number of potential violations to the State Environmental Quality Review Act and village zoning codes within Beach and Yacht Club’s amended site plan for the new yacht building, including emergency service codes and visual changes to Mamaroneck Harbor.
Opposing Debra Cohen’s statements at the Feb. 6 meeting, attorney Paul Noto, representing Beach and Yacht, maintained the 990 IRS form is not the deciding factor in whether the club is zoning compliant within the village’s marine recreation zone.
In addition, Noto said every activity that goes on at the club that generates revenue is allowed as an accessory use under the village’s zoning codes and is required for the club’s benefit. Noto also said the club has a special permit that was renewed in March 2012, allowing the club to hold non-member events as long as they don’t exceed the 20 percent regulation.
Noto would not comment on how many of the club’s events are considered member events.
“All of the arguments about the applicability of the IRS regulations are completely irrelevant,” Noto said.
The club must submit a 990 form, but the code doesn’t specifically outline if the form is used in determining the club’s zoning compliancy.
Some residents also find fault with a private tennis shop operating on the club’s grounds that is open to the public as well as the club’s ownership allowing residents to take tennis lessons without being a member.
Noto said tennis courts and lessons are “part and parcel” of a recreation club and are necessary in order to keep the club afloat financially.
The club’s allowed accessory uses, as outlined in the code, include, but are not limited to, day camps, dining and entertainment services that don’t exceed 40 percent of the square footage of the clubhouse and what the code refers to as “other accessory buildings and accessory uses customarily incidental to the principal club use of the premises.”
Tennis courts, swimming pools, facilities for docking and other outdoor recreation uses are considered, according to the code, primary uses of a membership club. Permitted accessory uses must be done only in conjunction with a club’s primary uses, the code states.
Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Lawrence Gutterman said the fundamental purpose of zoning codes are to keep the health, safety and wellness of the village and its residents in check, so the discussion should be based on outlining what exactly the club’s activities are and if they’re detrimental to the community.
Debra Cohen said residents have complained about the noise and traffic caused by the club’s events in front of the Planning Board and to the police.
Village resident Paul Ryan said the accessory uses that were mentioned by Noto and outlined in the code are not supposed to outweigh the club’s primary uses, like conducting events for the sole benefit of its members and operating as a not-for-profit club.
Ryan said the only option for the village may be to hire a forensic accountant, paid for by the club, to go back and look over all of the tax forms filed by the club because for decades, he said the club has been reluctant to give full disclosure of its accounting practices.
“[After an investigation], everybody can move on. This has been going on for 30 years and we haven’t gotten a straight answer yet,” Ryan said.
Discussion about the club’s zoning compliance is ongoing. The Zoning Board of Appeals meets again on March 6.