The former 7Zs site has sat vacant since 2005. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Asked to weigh in on the potential acquisition of the old Peconic Health and Racquet Club Building, once home to the Seven Zs scuba school, on Flanders Road, Southampton Town Councilman John Bouvier exclaimed, “Finally!”

The purchase of the property has been a goal for years, and he recalled earlier attempts to buy the land. “It was brought up when I first got into office,” said the councilman, who was elected in 2015.

The Town Board will have a public hearing on the proposed $1.14 million purchase on September 13 at 1 p.m.

But that’s not all that’s being eyed in the hamlet.

A second hearing will focus on the $2.34 million acquisition of land just across the water.

Located on a peninsula that juts into Reeves Bay across from the marina, home to the Griffing House at 1040 Flanders Road, it comprises 4.5 acres.

Illustration: Southampton Press

According to the town heritage report for Flanders, during the 1880s, Samuel Griffing took over the family farm there on the peninsula initially known as Otter Hole Neck, and later, Methodist Point. Griffing began the area’s first duck farm, and by the turn of the 20th century, the farm was raising more than 5,000 ducklings per year. His father, John, had purchased it from the estate of Captain Charles Smith in 1861.

A limited liability company named Direction Lending bought the property in 2020 for $1 million, then transferred it to a second LLC, 1040F. It’s listed in arrears for 2021, with an unpaid tax bill of $12,524.

There appear to be seven structures on the property. Generally, under the strictures of Community Preservation Fund law, buildings on preserved land must be torn down, but CPF manager Lisa Kombrink said, “We will definitely leave the big white house that you can see from State Route 24. The rest will be evaluated.” The money for the purchases comes from the CPF, which is dedicated to the preservation of open space, historic properties and farmland.

The now graffiti-covered building at 1140 Flanders Road will likely be bulldozed per CPF regulations. According to town property records, the owner, Island Properties & Associates LLC bought the 3.1-acre parcel in 2007 for $450,000. Town records note it is in arrears for $31,855 for 2021.

In 2014, the owner looked to create a health spa at the site when an earlier plan to raze the already dilapidated structure and build 16 condominiums fell by the wayside. The health spa plan, too, was abandoned.

The Zaleski family owned the business there prior to that purchase and ran a scuba school and shop. Bouvier recalled working there during the summer as a teen. He met one of the family members while diving under the Ponquogue Bridge, and decided to take the job selling scuba gear.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property that fell into disrepair,” he said. Officials have been working toward the purchase for a long time, Bouvier recalled. In 2019, the town had the property appraised and made an offer, but it was rejected.

“That building has been vacant since my daughter, a senior in high school, was born,” Councilwoman Cynthia McNamara said. “It will be a great day when it comes down and that gorgeous view from Reeves Bay becomes visible from Flanders Road,” she said.

The building’s continued deterioration was brought up last year, when Lorraine Paceleo, vice president of the Bay View Pines Civic Association, told the Town Board, “The blight on our community is overwhelming.”

She encouraged members to use their imaginations and picture the beautiful vista that could be seen if the Seven Zs “strip mall” property was acquired publicly. “If you guys could buy it with CPF money and turn that into a marina and open up that property, take down that mall … the view would be a real wow.”

A CPF-purchased property can’t be turned into a commercial venue like a marina, under the law.

Both properties are eligible for inclusion in the town Wetland Preservation Target Area. The resolutions setting the public hearings note each is “an indispensable and fragile natural resource that is immensely important to both the environmental and economic health of the Town.”

The description continues: “The rich assemblage and complex variety of wetlands, ranging from small wet depressions, interdunal swales and vernal ponds, to expansive marshes, swamps, bays, creeks and ponds, sustain a multitude of natural functions and values, making them essential to maintaining the ecology and biodiversity of the town. They also perform important flood protection and pollution control functions, as well as provide a great expanse of scenic natural open space.”

Not everyone is thrilled about the purchase, according to posts on social media. Concern was raised about removing a commercial property from the tax rolls in a hamlet that already has a slender tax base.

Angela Huneault, vice president of the Flanders Riverside Northampton Civic Association, said Thursday that the news is so fresh, she’s still considering. She plans to bring the purchases up for discussion at FRNCA’s next meeting. “I want to hear what the community has to say,” she said.

That opportunity will be offered on September 13 at Town Hall, beginning at 1 p.m.

This article was published Aug. 25 by The Southampton Press. It is reprinted here with permission.

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