The next time you pass the intersection of North Road and Horton Lane in Southold, take a quick gander to the northwest at the property occupied by Lucas Ford. If things had turned out otherwise some 30 years ago, that vista would be very different today. Instead of an auto dealership, the four-acre parcel might have been occupied by an indoor tennis facility, but that scenario was not to be.
Quick history: In the early 1980s, a small group of avid local tennis players — of which I was a part — had a verbal agreement with the owner of the property, former Southold Town Board member Alice Hussie, to lease it for the purpose of establishing a two-court indoor tennis facility that would be covered by an inflatable “bubble” and include a small cinder block office/locker room and a crushed stone parking area. The total cost of the project, including construction and purchase of the “bubble,” came in under $100,000, as I recall. (Remember, this was the ’80s.) But then the Southold Town Planning Board stepped in. Concerned that the 38-foot-tall lighted “bubble” would constitute an eyesore, the planners required us to plant mature fir trees four feet apart around the perimeter of the four acres. If memory serves, that pretty much doubled the cost. Ergo: end of project.
Fast-forward some 30 years to 2016, when another group of local tennis players is proposing an even more ambitious indoor/outdoor sports facility for the 20-acre wooded property opposite the former Capital One headquarters on Main Road in Mattituck. It would include not only indoor and outdoor tennis courts, but an indoor swimming pool, a “state-of-the-art” gymnasium, synthetic turf playing fields, an indoor running track, yoga platforms and batting cages. (Something tells me their construction costs will end up way north of $100,000, but Steve Marsh, a very substantial private investor, has pledged to help bankroll the project.)
Full disclosure: I know two of the principals behind the project — property owner Paul Pawlowski and his partner, Joe Slovak — so the following expression of opinion may not be entirely objective. Paul is a member of the tennis-playing Pawlowski family, which includes his brother, Stan, one of the very best players ever to come out of Mattituck High School. And I first met Joe in his capacity as tennis professional at Laurel Links Country Club in Mattituck. He is, quite simply, one of the best teachers/coaches of young athletes I’ve ever had the pleasure to observe.
A lot has been said and written about this project, pro and con, much of it in this newspaper. And in my opinion the pros vastly outweigh the cons. There is no question in my mind that the pent-up demand for such a facility here virtually guarantees its success. And I base this optimism largely on my personal experience: 25 years of driving all the way to Westhampton to play indoor tennis in the winter, only to recognize half the players there as residents of Southold Town.
Conversely, I can find only one con of substance, and that relates to the impact the facility would have on Main Road traffic in the vicinity of the stoplight at Factory Avenue/Sigsbee Road. Particularly during morning and afternoon rush hour — if you really can call it that on the North Fork — this is one of the busiest intersections in Southold Town, with traffic sometimes backed up for several hundred feet in either direction. Any Main Road entrance/exit associated with the proposed Sports East facility could reasonably be assumed to exacerbate this problem. Unless …
Unless an alternate entrance/exit were established to the immediate west of Mr. Pawlowski’s property, via the lightly trafficked Old Main Road that accesses the HighWind Farm horse farm. In that case there would be little or no interaction with traffic approaching or leaving the existing traffic light.
I have no way of knowing if HighWind’s owners would be amenable to granting/selling a right-of-way to Mr. Pawlowski at the currently unused northeast corner of their property, but it’s certainly something I hope both parties, not to mention Southold Town’s planning and zoning boards, will consider.
Bottom line: It’s never too late. Sports East may have presented itself on a silver platter to the residents of Southold Town 30 years later, but it’s an offer that should not be refused.
The author is a former publisher of The Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at [email protected]