A couple who lives next to Herrick Park in East Hampton Village filed an Article 78 petition in Suffolk County Supreme Court on April 16, seeking to stop the village from building lighted pickleball courts in the park and making other improvements there.
In the petition, which names the village, its board of trustees, and Mayor Jerry Larsen, Michael and Barbara Bebon also allege that the village plans to build an ice-skating rink and a permanent concert stage in the park, directly adjacent to their house at 93 Main Street.
Since the elected officials are party to the lawsuit, they were hesitant to respond for comment, but Marcos Baladron, the village administrator, said in a phone call that “there are no plans for a rink or a concert stage.”
At the village board meeting on Friday, public hearings were held on a proposed law amending regulations regarding pickleball courts and another authorizing a six-month moratorium on the conversion of tennis courts and other playing courts on residential property to pickleball courts. The new pickleball regulations would prohibit courts on lots smaller than 60,000 square feet, and require that they be four feet below grade, surrounded on three sides by six-foot sound-attenuation walls, and not contain any “lighting or illuminations.” Both of them were approved at the end of the meeting.
Only two members of the public addressed the legislation, Elisabetta Coschignano, one of the Bebons’ lawyers, and Ms. Bebon, herself.
Ms. Coschignano said the Bebons fully support the moratorium, but want it extended from residential properties to village-owned land in a residential zone, specifically Herrick Park, until the noise concerns surrounding pickleball can be better studied. The fact that on the one hand the village was proposing a law that included sound attenuation for pickleball courts on residential properties, but not on pickleball courts it was planning on village land, was hypocritical, she said.
The Bebons had consented to another neighbor’s pickleball court, she told the board. However, that single court was a “far cry from a public installation of a court that has the potential to be used from morning until night, and with multiple courts. Just the thought of residing next to the persistent pounding noise of this game is unbearable and would certainly end their quiet enjoyment and use of their property.”
The village board voted for the Herrick Park changes in March and said at the time that they hoped the construction would be complete by summer. At an April 6 special work session, however, after hearing complaints from neighbors, the board removed the pickleball striping from the tennis courts.
“It doesn’t mean we’re getting rid of pickleball altogether in the park, just at that location,” Mr. Baladron said at that meeting. “We’re being sensitive to the neighbors’ feedback. We’re going to find an alternate location.”
“By adopting this new plan, I think the neighbors will be happier,” Mayor Larsen said at the April 6 meeting, adding that before a new location was agreed upon, “it will be presented to the public and we’ll take input before any of that is implemented.”
Apparently, the neighbors were not happier.
“Our clients were told by several village officials that there would be a construction of a permanent concert bandshell and an ice skating rink,” Ms. Coschignano said at Friday’s meeting. Those uses were not “contemplated as uses according to the deed restrictions” when, in 1976, Herrick Park was deeded to the village by a neighborhood association. They also ran counter to a comprehensive plan the village adopted in 2002.
Besides the deed restrictions, the petition filed by the Bebons accused the board of violating “both the procedural and substantive requirements of SEQRA, New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act.”
According to the petition, the April 6 work session, which lasted all of eight minutes, was “hastily and surreptitiously convened for the sole purpose of adopting a ‘negative SEQRA declaration’ with respect to Herrick Park Phase 1A revisions in a weak, thinly veiled post hoc effort to respond to petitioner’s objections and belatedly comply with SEQRA.”
“We removed the markings of pickleball on that court and there are no other plans with pickleball,” Mayor Larsen said at Friday’s meeting.
“I’m thrilled to hear there is not going to be any pickleball, at least in this phase,” said Ms. Bebon. “If you were to reconsider and put these pickleball courts on at any phase it would completely destroy not only our quality of life, but that of other people who use the park to relax and have quiet time.”
In a March 22 email from Mr. Bebon to Mayor Larsen, after the mayor had visited Mr. Bebon’s house and showed him the Herrick Park plans, he wrote, “Currently the park is a peaceful place where people bring their kids and the school children come over for recess to play. It is not Disney World. And there absolutely should not be a concert stage built next to my house or anywhere else in the park; it is not a concert venue.”
“We don’t know what we’re doing with Phase 2,” Mayor Larsen said at Friday’s meeting, “but we’ll include the public when we figure it out.” He said they had been thoughtful and considerate to the neighbors, for example, when they moved the basketball court away from the Bebons’ property line. “Our goal is to make it a community park, which is the way it used to be.”
In the petition, the Bebons sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop work at the park. Mayor Larsen said in a phone call on April 19 that it had been denied. Work continued in the park this week.
“We expect this will be dismissed once we answer it,” said Mayor Larsen. The village attorney, Lisa Perillo, is to submit paperwork to the court by Thursday.