11/22/13 4:30pm
11/22/2013 4:30 PM
BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA COURTESY PHOTO  |  Boy Scouts on a rope obstacle course.

BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA COURTESY PHOTO | Boy Scouts on a rope obstacle course.

The new location of the Baiting Hollow Boy Scouts Camp’s proposed COPE course at their 90-acre camp in Baiting Hollow was approved with no opposition at the Riverhead Town Planning Board meeting Thursday.

The COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) obstacle course had met with opposition from neighbors on Silver Beech Lane after it was previously proposed for a location about 100 fee from homes there, on the eastern portion of the camp property, which stretches north from Sound Avenue.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation had initially given its approval to that site, but withdrew its supports due to DEC covenants and restrictions on what could built there and dropped its support.

The reversal came mostly as a result of the opposition from neighbors, who retained a lawyer to fight the plan.

The new location is on the western part of the Boy Scouts camp, and is more than 400 feet away from the nearest homes. The land there also doesn’t have any DEC restrictions, and thus, doesn’t need their approval.

There was no opposition at a public hearing on the new site two weeks ago.

The Planning Board approved the COPE course, which is a series of rope and wire climbing challenges, as well as a new archery pavilion at the site,  by a 3-0 vote, with board members Lou Bochetti and Joe Baier absent.

Camp Director Jim Grimaldi said earlier this year that it will cost the Scouts about $15,000 more to put the course at the new location.

tgannon@timesreview.com

05/16/13 12:00pm
05/16/2013 12:00 PM

BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA COURTESY PHOTO | Scouts on a rope obstacle course.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has withdrawn its support for a controversial COPE obstacle course proposed for a wooded area of the Baiting Hollow Boy Scout Camp, potentially limiting the project’s chances of gaining approval from the Riverhead Town Planning Board.

“DEC determined the plan for the camp did not meet the [1981] conservation easement’s requirement that no further development could occur on the land,” said DEC spokesperson Aphrodite Montalvo. “As the conservation easement states, ‘No buildings, residences, mobile homes or other structures … shall be constructed … on the Protected Property …”

A COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) course is a series of rope- and wire-climbing obstacles that exist at Boy Scouts camps throughout the country. But the proposed location of the Baiting Hollow course is about 100 feet from the backyards of some neighbors on Silver Beech Lane, who have rallied to oppose the plans.

Baiting Hollow camp director Jim Grimaldi described the proposed course as requiring the installation of a dozen 35-foot telephone poles on camp property east of Fresh Pond. A variety of climbing exercises will be hung from wires between the poles, including a zip line, a cargo net, a Burma bridge, a balance beam and other climbing apparatus.

The Scouts have said the proposed location is the only place the course can be built on the 90-acre Baiting Hollow property because the rest of the land is too hilly.

The DEC’s withdrawal of its support came after some Baiting Hollow residents who live near the proposed course met Saturday with the DEC official who ruled last year that a COPE course was “in keeping with the spirit and intent of the conservation easement” the DEC applied to the property in 1981 after paying the Suffolk Boy Scouts $127,000.

That land remains under the ownership of the Suffolk Boy Scouts, but the easement puts restrictions on what can be built on it in order to preserve the land.

Heather Amster, the DEC’s regional real property supervisor, who wrote a letter of support for the COPE course on May 11, 2012, met with residents Saturday at the home of Bob and Mary Oleksiak, who live closest to the proposed COPE course. The Oleksiaks’ attorney, former Riverhead Town supervisor Phil Cardinale, was also present.

Ms. Amster’s 2012 letter, written to Mr. Grimaldi, read that “Natural Resources staff have reviewed the design plans and purpose of the rope course and have determined there will be little to no impact to the protected property, and that the course itself is in keeping with the spirit and intent of the conservation easement.”

Mr. Cardinale wrote to DEC regional director Peter Scully on May 10, emphasizing that “the public paid a considerable sum for this conservation easement. The public has a right to expect the conservation easement they paid for will be enforced. If the State of New York, via the DEC, elects to waive any of the conservation protections the public paid for, that waiver must, as required by law, be made publicly and placed on the public record of the Suffolk County Clerk’s office.”

The easement’s stated intent is to “preserve perpetually the protected property in its natural, scenic, open space and wooded condition,” Mr. Cardinale stressed in his letter, saying this intent “would be violated” by the construction of the COPE course.

Mr. Cardinale said he made these same points in the meeting Saturday.

On Monday, Ms. Amster sent a new letter to Dirk Smith, the Scout Executive of the Suffolk County Boy Scouts, and copied Riverhead Town.

“The department finds it necessary to withdraw its approval for the placement of a COPE course on lands under conservation easement to the [DEC] at the Baiting Hollow Boy Scout Camp,” her letter reads.

Ms. Amster wrote that the “new information” received by DEC officials “demonstrates that the project’s purpose and scope are more significant than previously indicated. Of particular concern are the scenic impacts the project would have and the potential utilization of the course by non-scouting organizations for a fee, neither of which is consistent with the conservation easement.”

Mr. Grimaldi said on Tuesday that he had not read Ms. Amster’s letter and could not comment.

John Roe, the Scouts’ attorney, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mr. Cardinale said he believes the COPE course cannot be built without the DEC’s approval.

Bill Duffy, the attorney for the town Planning Board, which has held two public hearings on the application, said the town has received the DEC’s letter and town officials are discussing whether the course could be permitted without its support.

The Planning Board has yet to issue a decision on the COPE course, and has another meeting scheduled for today, Thursday, May 16, at 3 p.m.

“We had just found out about the covenants last week and we’re happy that DEC was nice enough to come out and visit with us,” Mr. Oleksiak said. “We’re very happy to find out we did have some say in the matter.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

04/18/13 10:00pm
04/18/2013 10:00 PM

BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA COURTESY PHOTO | Scouts on a rope obstacle course.

After hearing nearly an hour of objections from neighbors and others, the Riverhead Planning Board on Thursday afternoon decided to adjourn to May 2 a public hearing on a controversial proposal to built a “COPE course” on a section of the Baiting Hollow Boy Scouts Camp that is only about 100 feet from homes.

The COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) course is a series of 12 rope and wire climbing devices that are hung from twelve 35-foot high telephone poles. One of the devices is a zip line.

The various challenges are designed to meet Boy Scouts of America standards, and are based on attaining seven goals outlined by the Boy Scouts of America: teamwork, communication, trust, leadership, decision making, problem solving and self-esteem, according to the Boy Scouts.

More than 300 Scouts camps across the country have COPE courses, scouting officials said.

But residents of Silver Beech Lane questioned why the Scouts chose to put the course right near their homes, when the Scouts camp is almost 90 acres in size.

Bob Oleksiak, whose home is closest to the proposed course, read a letter from his wife, Mary, who was present, but he said “would be crying” if she read it herself.

Ms. Oleksiak, who has cancer, said that if built, she would see the course from every window in her home, instead of the nature and wildlife she sees now.

“After cancer, I just want to rest and recuperate. This will no longer be a place to heal and recover, it will be my cause of death,” her letter read.

Other neighbors, including former town Councilman George Bartunek and Joe Van de Wetering, said they have no objection to the COPE, just to the proposed location.

“This is not a NIMBY issue,” Mr. Van de Wetering said. “This is an ‘in your face’ issue.”

Fran Rosenfeld, who lives next to the Oleksiaks, said she would never be able to sell her house if the COPE course is behind it.

Richard Amper, speaking on his own behalf and not on behalf of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society nonprofit he helps lead, said the presentation by the Boy Scout representatives at Thursday’s hearing made hardly any mention of the neighbors.

“I can’t figure out why the Boy Scouts are constantly at war with their neighbors,” he said.

The Baiting Hollow camp many years ago proposed to install a cell tower that neighbors opposed, and the Schiff Scout Reserve on Wading River-Manor Road had proposed selling their camp and allowing it to be cleared for a golf course many years ago. Neither proposal came to fruition.

Several other speakers, including former supervisor Phil Cardinale, who is representing the Oleksiaks as an attorney, said the proposal should require a special permit from the Town Board before the Planning Board can vote on the site plan because it constitutes an expansion of a “pre-existing, non-conforming use,” meaning that the use existed before zoning but doesn’t conform to its present zoning, which is residential.

A town planning report from environmental planner Joe Hall said that proposal doesn’t constitute an expansion of the pre-existing use, merely an accommodation for enhancing the existing scout camp.

Mr. Cardinale disagreed, saying that when he was supervisor, projects that were proposed on the non-profit Little Flower campus, which also is a non-conforming, pre-existing use, needed special permits from the Town Board.

He said that if the Scouts are allowing non-Scouts groups to use the course for a fee, that would constitute a new use.

Mr. Grimaldi said in an interview that the Scouts do charge a fee to school and youth groups, but do so only to recover their costs in having an instructor present. He said the course is never used without a Scout instructor present.

Councilman John Dunleavy and others said they felt the Scouts should be made to agree in writing that they would not rent the space out to non-Scout groups if the COPE course is approved.

Mr. Cardinale said COPE courses are used be non-Scouts groups. He referred to a quote from the Baiting Hollow camp’s director Jim Grimaldi in a News-Review article about the COPE course, in which Mr. Grimaldi said the course would also be used by school and youth groups, as well as to information from national Boy Scouts web sites saying that COPE courses are routinely rented out to non-Scout groups.

John Roe, the attorney for Suffolk County Boy Scouts, said he could not commit to that restriction without discussing it with Scouts leaders first.

But he said the Scouts camp at Baiting Hollow has been there for 87 years and “we tried to be a good neighbor during that time. We think the impact from this is going to minimal.”

He said the Scoust camp is only used from July 1 to the end of August for weekday campers, but it is used on weekends sometimes beyond those months.

Mr. Grimaldi said the site in question was chosen because it is the only site on the camp that is flat enough to put the course.

Mr. Roe said the camp property is like a “U” in that it is high on the east and west ends and low in the middle, where Fresh Pond is.

Bill Dunn, the vice president for program at the Suffolk County Scouts, said the COPE course is not an obstacle course in which the objective is to complete it quickly. It’s a course where instructors give directions to scouts who then carry them out.

“This is very disciplined,” he said. The COPE course has consistently been suggested by scout leaders as something the Baiting Hollow camp lacks.

The course is not open to anyone who shows up, he said, and when it is not being used, the various climbing challenges are not reachable without a ladder.

But Mr. Oleksiak said the course will not be secured, because people could enter from private property, and those people could bring a ladder.

Planning Board member Ed Densieski said the board would adjourn the hearing to their next meeting, which is at 7 p.m. May 2.

Prior to the hearing, residents had asked that the date of the hearing be shifted to a night meeting. The Planning Board declined to do so, but said it could have the day time hearing on Thursday and then adjourn it to the night meeting.

tgannon@timesreview.com