The East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals voted on Friday to require a full environmental study of the Maidstone Club’s proposed irrigation system overhaul, prompting a lengthy debate between the club’s attorney, David Eagan, and the board’s chairman, Andrew Goldstein, that became especially heated when Mr. Goldstein ordered Mr. Eagan to sit down.
“Sit down, Mr. Eagan, or I’m going to call a security officer,” Mr. Goldstein said about 45 minutes into the discussion. He stood up at his seat and requested that Pam Bennett, the village’s deputy clerk, stop the audio recording.
The audience booed loudly as Mr. Eagan walked away from the microphone.
“You’re belittling your own process,” Mr. Eagan told the chairman.
“Turn off the tape?” one person shouted.
Ms. Bennett said she had not turned off the tape.
Mr. Goldstein apologized to Mr. Eagan.
Prior to Mr. Goldstein’s outburst, Mr. Eagan had been arguing against the need for a detailed environmental impact statement, saying it was highly unusual to require one and to then decide after passing a resolution requiring one, that the resolution should be amended to also require a “scoping session” to determine the various matters that should be addressed in the study.
“Do you live in East Hampton,” asked Larry Hillel, a board member. “Do you care about this place?”
Mr. Eagan said he did, and for 30 years, but that the question was offensive.
“Enough!” yelled Mr. Goldstein.
“No, I’m going to answer the question,” Mr. Eagan said.
With the board’s vote at the beginning of the meeting to require the detailed study of the irrigation system’s impacts, Mr. Goldstein appeared to expect no further discussion, but relented when Mr. Eagan asked to read something into the record.
“How long is it?” Mr. Goldstein asked. “You could submit a copy of the statement and it will still make it into the record.”
“It’s not long,” Mr. Eagan said. “I’m obligated to make a record.” The attorney said he had not had a chance to read the board’s resolution, but that he felt their decision was unwarranted “based on the club’s record and the controlling law.” He took objection to the board’s procedure, particularly the lack of “opportunity to rebut the significance of the opposition’s expert testimony.”
The Z.B.A. chairman and the Maidstone attorney grew farther apart during several minutes of contentious debate about what effect relevant case law should have on the club’s application.
In legal speak, the board adopted a “positive declaration” or “pos dec,” on the application, an option provided to it by the State Environmental Quality Review Act when the board believes the proposed project has the potential for serious environmental impacts.
“General and speculative comments alone are not substantial support for a positive declaration,” Mr. Eagan said.
“You’re right about the law, but wrong about the facts,” Mr. Goldstein said. “There have been several conversations and testimony that give us reason to pos dec this application.”
“We have proffered nationally recognized experts who’ve given specific testimony that there will be no significant impact on Hook Pond or its plants and animals,” Mr. Eagan said. “It’s fair to say that some concerns have been expressed, but they are generalized,” Mr. Eagan said.
“We haven’t just listend to the clamor of a mob,” Mr. Goldstein said, “we have heard specific . . . issues raised by the public.”
“Your experts may be right, but it is the purpose of SEQRA to see if they are right,” Mr. Goldstein said.
“You have nothing to lose. . . ,” Mr. Hillel said.
“This is a big decision that could have possible adverse impacts for many generations to come,” said Frank Newbold, another board member. “Anyone who has walked the nature trail at Fithian and Huntting Lane would notice the stream bed is dry. We want to examine this application as closely as possible.”
“This is the most significant application that this board has confronted in many years,” Mr. Goldstein said, and for Mr. Eagan to think the board would not require an environmental impact statement is “naive on your part,” he added.
“Based on our record to date, and court precedent, we believe that there was no basis for a positive declaration,” Mr. Eagan said.
“Well maybe you’ll make that point in another forum,” said Mr. Goldstein, who on numerous occasions asked if the Maidstone Club was planning to sue the board over its decision.
“We were hoping not to,” Mr. Eagan said. “We are going to work within our full reservation of rights to satisfy the public’s concerns.”
“Hook Pond is akin to a sick patient,” said Dr. Evelyn Lipper, who lives on the pond and hired a hydrologist who disagreed with findings of the club’s hydrologist. “The draft E.I.S. will give up-to-date information about the pond so that we may know the best way to proceed. . . . I am not opposed to the project; I look forward to everyone working together.”
Telisport Putsavage, a Washington, D.C., attorney for Dr. Lipper, then asked the board to amend its resolution to require a scoping session “obligating the club to submit an outline of the topics it will cover in the draft E.I.S.,” because “it would give the process more efficiency, and ensure the E.I.S. does its job.”
The board agreed and subsequently amended its resolution, despite the fact that Mr. Goldstein had said earlier that the environmental assessment form prepared by the village’s planning consultant “lays out a pretty specific outline as to what would be required of the E.I.S.”
“You passed a resolution without discussion and now you’re changing it?” asked Mr. Eagan, as he made his way back to the lectern. “It’s highly unusual that this board is opening up a scoping session after it unanimously voted against it.”
The Maidstone Club has had four hearings before the zoning board. Between the third and fourth, Mr. Putsavage petitioned the State Department of Environmental Conservation to suspend the well and freshwater wetland permits issued to the Maidstone, charging the club “has made inconsistent, incomplete, inaccurate, misleading, and potentially false statements” in the application process. The D.E.C. rejected the petition on Aug. 9 (and it also rejected the Z.B.A.’s July 31 lead agency request for the aforementioned D.E.C. permits).
“The record needs to show the extraordinary attempt by this board to make the accusation that we made misrepresentations in our application to the D.E.C,” Mr. Eagan said.
“How extraordinary?” Mr. Goldstein. “This much, or this much?” placing his hands one foot and then two feet apart.
Ed Shaw, a resident of Middle Lane, was the last to speak on the issue. “I was under the impression that the club would present its experts to you today. What happened?”
“After the E.I.S. is submitted, there will be plenty of opportunity for that,” Mr. Goldstein said.
In a Sept. 6 letter to Mr. Goldstein, Linda James, who lives on Hook Pond and is a Maidstone Club member, said, “an EIS will provide the community and the Z.B.A. who represent us, with complete and consolidated records.” This was the first of the irrigation hearings she did not attend.
The board decided that it would issue a positive declaration on or before Aug. 24, as a written determination of significance was drafted on that date. Mr. Eagan believes that a hearing should have been held on the findings of the village’s environmental assessment form, before the board decided to require full-blown environmental review. Linda Riley, the village attorney, disagrees.
Ms. Riley stated that the document was circulated internally.
The club may submit its scoping outline for the environmental impact statement at any time, according to Ms. Riley. After that, the board will have 60 days to hear comments and approve a final outline.
“We are sensitive to the events that occurred at Friday’s hearing,” Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., said yesterday. “We will review and discuss all available options.”
“Maidstone is prepared to work in good faith towards completing the E.I.S. on a timely basis,” club officials said in a statement on Tuesday. “As the largest landowner on Hook Pond, the club has always focused on maintaining the health and beauty of the pond and will continue to do so for generations to come. Our science is unequivocal. Irrigation will not negatively impact the health of the pond and may well improve it.”