Neighbors Fight Usdan Plan to Add Camp Sites to Property

A plan that would bring glamping to the grounds of the Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts has run into a buzzsaw of opposition from neighbors.

Usdan, owned by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Jewish Philanthropies NY, is seeking a modification of a special use permit to allow it to construct up to 70 camp sites in the woods of its property in Melville.

While Usdan officials evoke images of moms getting together for a weekend of pottery lessons and wholesome family fun, some neighboring property owners who oppose the plan are warning of adult motels, a transient population, potential fire hazards, garbage and more.

Lauren Brandt, Usdan’s executive director, said the tents would be on platforms so that they are stable but not permanently affixed, that there will be no electricity or water, and that  the glamping tents will not be in use at the same time as the arts camp students are on site.

“The vision is to be accessible to more people,” she said, and to allow more people to use nature and Usdan’s cultural arts programming already available on the property.

“The students and the glampers will be separated by schedule,” she said.   “No one loves our property or our children more than we do and we are charged with shepherding the management of this property. We are being very careful and considerate,” she said of the 140-acre property.

Opponents have created a petition and a website to push back against the plan. As of Monday afternoon, more than 490 people had signed the petition.

One, Michael Rosedale, points to problems that have occurred at a handful of short-term rentals around Huntington and elsewhere, where temporary guests have held wild parties in otherwise quiet neighborhoods, and foresees similar problems if Usdan is permitted to go ahead.

Others who have written to the ZBA warn about children’s safety and destruction of forestation.

Joe Levy, Usdan’s chief operating officer, said that the tents will be 250 feet, and face away, from the property line, along the the northern and eastern borders of the camp.

“The vision is not to keep neighbors out,” Joe said. “This is the way more people can use the property–that’s what this project is about, providing this access.”

Usdan said the revenue from glamping would go toward scholarships. “What has happened over the 55 years is that demand from lower and middle income students has increased,” Brandt said. Sessions draw 1,000-1,200 students each summer.

Opponents challenge that scholarship statement and say the camp should raise funds from its alumni.

The season would run from March 15-Nov. 15, and Brandt said glamping would be rolled out very slowly.

In a letter to the ZBA dated March 18, Matthew Wieder, senior planner, quoted a review under State Environmental Quality Review Act  that “Allowing a low-density Campground Lodging use is certainly more protective of the environment than developing property for conventional residential development.”  As such, Wieder wrote, “The Planning Board supports this additional use which will aid in the preservation of natural woodlands.”

The term “glamping” is a combination of the words glamorous and camping, and refers to a more luxurious style of camping.

A public hearing is scheduled for April 7 by the Zoning Board of Appeals.


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