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Devon Yacht Club Wants to Demolish and Draw Back

Thu, 03/28/2024 - 12:15
As part of its proposal, the Devon Yacht Club in Amagansett has proposed capping its membership.
Durell Godfrey

The Devon Yacht Club, which hopes to proceed with a large-scale redevelopment of its 120-year-old facility, came before the East Hampton Town Planning Board last week.

The club is proposing to demolish all the buildings on its 13.82-acre site, which pre-exist adoption of the town’s zoning code, and to rebuild elsewhere, farther from Gardiner’s Bay. Many variances will be needed, as well as a special permit.

The cost of the project will exceed 50 percent of the current market value of the existing buildings. “This is going to cost tens of millions of dollars,” said Richard Warren of Inter-Science Research Associates, speaking for the yacht club. “It’s been designed in a way that is consistent with the town’s CARP [Coastal Assessment Resiliency Plan]. We met with the supervisor early on; he said this is a model project. There is a point where if it gets too onerous for them, they’re going to walk away. What they’ve asked for the planning board to do is give them a confirmation that you’re still on board with the concepts of what they’re trying to do here.”

Mr. Warren was speaking after Lisa Liquori, a former director of the East Hampton Town Planning Department, had presented a 29-page memo to the board, walking it through the positive impacts of the project but not shying away from its problems either.

Ms. Liquori was recently hired by the department to take over review of the project. “We were a bit surprised to learn three weeks ago that Ms. Liquori was brought in,” said Mr. Warren. “There is narrative in the report that talks about scaling back the project.”

Tina Vavilis LaGarenne, the assistant planning director, said the department had been consistent. “I don’t think concerns about the scale of the project are new,” she said. “One of the original suggestions was that a tennis court be removed and revegetated.”

“That’ll be the end of the project,” said Mr. Warren.

“One tennis court?” asked Samuel Kramer, the board chairman.

“One tennis court,” answered Mr. Warren.

“There’s a lot going on,” Ms. Liquori told the board. “Whether the lot area is sufficient for a yacht club — the code says 10 acres is needed — when you subtract wetlands and the dune area, this is a six-and-a-half-acre site. There will be more than five acres of disturbance, more than 17,000 square feet of building removal, another 27,000 square feet of new buildings being constructed and a lot of new fill brought in.” Town planners have calculated it will take 274 truck trips for a triple-axle dump truck with a 20-cubic-yard capacity to bring in all the fill. Then, of course, the trucks have to leave. “We’re concerned. This is a big project in a residential area.”

Ms. Liquori questioned the adequacy of the parking plan (226 spaces are required; Devon proposes 78) among other issues, and reiterated that the Planning Department wants more information about the club’s membership numbers. Devon has agreed to covenant the maximum membership at 400. “Are there 400 members right now? Does that cap allow for an expansion? We’re still trying to understand why there’s a 46-percent expansion in the buildings.”

“We question,” she continued, “whether the yacht club is a ‘reciprocal club,’ and whether that means, with the reciprocal club members, if that allows for an increase in intensity on the site, which would be facilitated by the increase in the buildings’ square footage.”

“The regrading of the primary dune north of the clubhouse remains a concern,” she went on, “and the narrative submitted does not clearly support the need for this work.” She emphasized that despite the parcel’s pre-existing non-conforming status, “all structures that don’t meet the dune crest setback will require variances.”

Mr. Warren reframed the proposal as a modernization of the site, rather than an expansion.

“We recognize this is a challenging site, and I’d like to think, the past 18 months we’ve been working with the town, that they’d recognize we’ve been honest and open with the information we provided,” he said. “There’s now a little bit of worry among Devon membership and the board of governors that this report may be steering this board away from the prior support it offered to us.”

He ticked off benefits to the town if the parcel is redeveloped: a new wastewater treatment system, drainage control, a landward retreat, FEMA compliance, doubling the amount of parking currently in place, removing non-native vegetation and adding over an acre of native plants. “We’re not bulldozing a dune,” he stressed.

“Devon has agreed to a covenant to cap the membership, something you don’t have at present. Devon can walk away from this and now you don’t have a cap,” Mr. Warren said. “It does have a certificate of occupancy and can stay operating as it is, warts and all, with the sanitary system in the wetlands and current grading. But they’re committed to making the facility better for the town.”

After that, the board seemed eager to assure the applicant that it was okay with the project.

“To the extent that you came here to take our temperature, I think you’re finding it’s 98.6 degrees. Steady and healthy,” said Samuel Kramer, board chairman. He did emphasize that the pile driving at the site would be a serious issue that could cause damage to neighbors’ homes. “Give us a serious construction protocol, to give neighbors the knowledge that it’s not going to be a winter of hell.”

“My best friend got married there in 1992 and we couldn’t fit into the bathrooms then,” said Jen Fowkes, a board member. “It’s a net gain for the town.”

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