By PHIL NOBILE
An amendment to the village’s marine recreation zone laws was publicly proposed amidst years of controversy by a local membership club critics say improperly holds non-member events.
Specific language changes to the non-member events section of village marine recreation code were debated by the Board of Trustees as allegations of violating village code against the Hampshire Country Club and marine-area clubs like it have mounted over the years.
The amendment was proposed by village trustees after the Zoning Board of Appeals was concerned there was no provision in the law to allow non-members to hold events in residential zones, according to Village Manager Richard Slingerland.
The proposed language includes a clearer definition of a non-member, stating any non-member event includes “activities that are not restricted to members or that are not hosted or financially guaranteed by a member.” Originally, the code stated non-member events were activities “not restricted to members only” without further specification.
The trustees referred the amendment to Village Attorney Charles Goldberger for consistency analysis by a 5-0 vote.
According to Slingerland, the analysis will consist of looking at all waterfront-related policies in the village and see if the added language will be consistent across the board. Goldberger’s analysis and comments are expected by the Aug. 4 trustees work session.
In the marine recreation zone, clubs like Hampshire and the Mamaroneck Beach & Yacht Club must obtain a special permit from the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals to hold non-member events, according to village code. The code states the permitted uses in the zone include membership clubs, boathouses, basketball and tennis courts, beaches and docks.
Although the proposed amendment was not adopted or finalized, Celia Felsher, president of the Mamaroneck Coastal Environmental Coalition—a group of residents pushing for reform at the Hampshire Club—said that she supported the zoning change before the board.
“Commercial activities are not to be conducted in marine or residential areas; it is a tenant of our zoning laws,” Felsher said. “Your own council made this point very clearly in the state case that the club was in violation of the zoning laws because it was, in fact, not a non-for-profit entity.”
The matter revolves around resident complaints for years alleging the club hosts non-member events for profit. As far back as 2010, neighbors of the club have complained that Hampshire has been host to numerous non-member events, such as wedding receptions, golf outings and dinners.
Hampshire has also shown it has other ideas in mind for the property.
A February 2014 decision by the Board of Trustees denied a petition by the club to develop luxury condominiums where a clubhouse currently stands on the club’s golf course. The plan called for 121 condominium units in total. Critics cited flooding concerns and obstruction of the the view of the Long Island Sound for existing homes.
In November 2013, the village formally filed an injunction against Hampshire to prohibit it from conducting commercial or recreational activities and to place a permanent ban on the club conducting non-member events.
As a result of improper response or no response at all to inquiries and notices by village officials, the village filed two separate cases against the club: one in the village court and the other with the New York Supreme Court in White Plains.
Both matters are still going through the legal system. In village court, the citation against Hampshire was adjourned until a July 21 village court date, and in the Supreme Court, all actions were put on hold to wait for a final outcome of the zoning amendment that is being proposed.
According to Goldberger, the village will report back to the court if the amendment is ultimately adopted.
Violations alleged by the village against the club stated that Hampshire, located at 1107 Cove Road, include failing to file required not-for-profit IRS form 990 with the village; failing to provide documentation to the village that the club is owned by not-for-profit Hampshire Club as opposed to Hampshire Recreation, a for-profit entity and that Hampshire hasn’t obtained a special permit in order to hold non-member events on the premises, as is required for membership clubs operating in the marine recreation zone.
Stephen Kass, a lawyer for the Mamaroneck Coastal Environment Commission, said although Felsher and the commission are in support of the amendment, some conditions need to be considered.
“In particular, there should be no audible noise at any of the surrounding areas,” Kass said. “There is considerable noise in a residential neighborhood from parties that are held there.”
Kass said the law, which allows any events or activities at marine membership clubs to be held until midnight from Sunday to Thursday and until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, needed to be changed as well, and that zoning laws needed to be followed in order for permits for non-member events to be issued.
“The zoning board should not be authorized to issue any special permit in the residential district without specific finding that existing zoning requirement for a non-profit club is not only being honored, but practiced,” Kass said. “The conditions set forth by the zoning board should be tightened, and [the Board of Trustees] have the authority to do that.”
Not every member of the community was in support of the new language.
Daniel Natchez, president of the Shore Acres Property Owner’s Association and a former village trustee, said the village was addressing a specific instance with the amendment, and, instead, should address the issue as a whole.
“The proposed change in the code, while conceptually may or may not be desirable, is not addressing the root of the problem: it’s trying to do a quick fix for something in front of a legal action in order to forestall it,” Natchez said. “It is a quick fix in my opinion and should be rejected and come to grips with the real problem of allowing non-member events in the residential area.”
Other village officials, such as Clark Neuringer, a Harbor and Coastal Zone Management Commission member with experience on numerous other village boards, said the language of the amendment wasn’t clear or concrete enough when it comes to the marine recreation zone and possible commercialization.
“There should be a desire on the part of this board to legislate clear and concise language, and, if you do that, you should not be afraid to define what membership clubs mean once and for all,” Neuringer said. “I don’t think any of you want to propose commercialization. You don’t want commercial use in residential districts. You can do something about it, and it’s all about
Additional changes or alternatives are expected to be considered during work sessions and discussions in the upcoming weeks.
The next Board of Trustees work session is Aug. 4.