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Oct 4, 2016 3:38 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton And Southampton Towns Whittle Down Development, One Waterfront House At A Time

Homes that East Hampton Town has purchased. MICHAEL PINTAURO
Oct 4, 2016 4:14 PM

In the last couple of years, the towns of Southampton and East Hampton have demolished some two dozen waterfront homes on the South Fork and restored the underlying properties as natural ecosystems using Community Preservation Fund revenues.

The two towns have spent a combined $28 million to transform 22 properties from developed housing lots back into pristine wetlands and shorefront.

East Hampton has been the most aggressive of the towns, directing nearly $22 million toward the purchase of 15 properties—some of the sales have yet to close, or structures have not yet been razed—in just the last 18 months, with a number more deals planned. Most recently, the town purchased two homes on Gerard Drive in Springs that had been on the market and were for sale, suffered no structural issues, and overlooked Gardiners Bay. The two purchases—on a very narrow strip of upland that would not be developable at all under modern guidelines because of wetlands setbacks—will restore about 2 acres of bayfront to natural scrub pine and dunelands.

“It is a lot of property that is environmentally threatened or sensitive, that’s subject to flooding or inundation or coastal erosion, that is now out of harm’s way and not going to cause any further damage to our environment,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said of the town’s recent push to scrub waterfront lands of structures. “It’s not so much that we’re targeting improved properties. But in a place like Gerard Drive, there is a significant number of properties that we’d like to preserve that should never have been developed.”

The towns will not be allowed to use CPF money directly for water quality improvements unless voters approve the extension of the program in November. But the existing CPF bylaws have long allowed waterfront land to be purchased for purposes of improving coastal resiliency, by removing structures from flood zones and broadening undeveloped waterfront that can better absorb storm surges and lessen impacts on developed areas. The clause has been in the law for nearly a decade, but it wasn’t until after Superstorm Sandy that most municipalities became aware of it or started applying it aggressively toward developed waterfront parcels—and by returning them to a natural state, also taking steps to battle pollution of the bays.

“After Sandy, everybody started seeing the potential benefits of open space for storm resiliency,” said State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., one of the authors of the CPF law in 1998. “The towns have always had the ability to acquire properties that had improvements on them and restore them to a natural state—that was inherent in the program from 1998. But after Sandy, the awareness of that increased exponentially.”

East Hampton generated most of its waterfront home purchases through a public outreach program to owners of property—both developed and undeveloped—around the edges of Accabonac Harbor, Three Mile Harbor and Lake Montauk.

Southampton Town made a similar public appeal to owners of waterfront properties but received a decidedly less enthusiastic response from homeowners than East Hampton did, according to the town’s CPF program manager, Mary Wilson.

Most of the properties that Southampton Town has purchased to bolster storm resiliency have been dilapidated structures badly in need of repair or upgrades in the floodprone Tiana Bay area. Most had suffered damage during Sandy and not been repaired since, Ms. Wilson said.

Also among the properties purchased was a motel called Hidden Cove, a former middle-class vacation hideaway on a quiet creek off Tiana Bay that had become a notoriously overcrowded full-time residency drawing torrents of complaints from Hampton Bays residents.

The town paid $2.3 million for the 2.24 acres. The demolition of the building is still awaiting environmental permits from the state.

Southampton did find some eager owners of livable houses who were willing to sell to the town.

“It was a wonderful thing to happen to that property,” said Martin Schulman, who sold his house on West Tiana Road in Hampton Bays to the town for $630,000. “When I bought the house, it had been in a state of semi-abandonment. I always planned to rebuild it—I just never did. The taxes were high, and the wetlands limited the amount of development we could do. So it was a good thing on both sides. They got me out of a toothache and, hopefully, the wetlands being returned will be a wonderful public benefit.”

The purchase of waterfront properties, especially developed ones, has not been without its detractors. At an East Hampton Town Board meeting last month, David Buda, a frequent fiscal and policy hawk, noted that the town’s piecemeal approach to grabbing up developed waterfront whenever and wherever lots become available strays from the CPF law’s management plan.

“None of these homes was ever placed on the CPF project plan. They only came up on an ad hoc basis,” Mr. Buda said in early September of the ever-changing list of properties recommended to be targeted for preservation by the town’s CPF advisory committee. “You’re required to have a CPF project plan to give a broad view of how the CPF money should best be used. I don’t think you’re taking a broad view.”

East Hampton Town has also been sued by the neighbor of two waterfront houses on Three Mile Harbor that were razed and sold to the town. The neighbor expressed concern that the newly vacant town-owned property would become a busy public access point to the harborfront or even a public beach. That lawsuit is pending.

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The CPF has at times spent inordinately large sums of money for inconsequential properties, some with only the most tenuous connections to groundwater protection. I'm aware of one small lot sandwiched in between tract houses that was purchased. No water or wildlife existed on it, other than squirrels, which seem to do fine in completely suburban settings. Yet other longtime owners holding sensitive properties get lowball offers when the Town wants to acquire the property. Seems you need to pay ...more
By Funbeer (273), Southampton on Oct 4, 16 5:32 PM
Funbeer - CPF can only make an offer based on two (2) independent appraisals requested by the authorizing agency. The Town's cannot make an offer that goes ABOVE the highest appraisal. Typically properties that are "sensitive" will be worth less money than a comparable acreage of "not-so-sensitive" land specifically because of the environmental conditions that exist.

If a property contains freshwater wetlands, is in an overlay district (like pine barrens) or has 5 acre zoning, these factors ...more
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Oct 5, 16 10:24 AM
just goes to show that southampton is one big piece of stinky trump butt
By kuali (32), southampton on Oct 6, 16 11:21 AM