Boys Harbor Is Bought

After many snags, town and county seal the deal
Tony Duke, who founded Boys Harbor in 1937, with Alan Sosne, an attorney for the Boys and Girls Harbor organization, when the East Hampton camp property was sold to East Hampton Town and Suffolk County last week.

    The people of East Hampton and Suffolk County became the owners of the former Boys Harbor camp off Springy Banks Road in East Hampton last week, when the town and county purchased the 26-acre property for $7.3 million, bringing a five-year process to a close.
    The cost will be borne equally by the county and town, with East Hampton’s share taken from the community preservation fund.
    On hand to witness the transfer was Anthony Drexel Duke, who founded a camp for underprivileged inner-city children in 1937 and brought youngsters to the East Hampton property to hike, boat, swim, and learn about nature from 1954 to 2006, when the cost of maintaining the aging facilities led to the camp’s closure.
    “I was really happy that the sale went through,” Mr. Duke said yesterday. “I think it’s wonderful. I hope they get really good use out of the property. It’s wonderful property. I’m thrilled with it.”
    Mr. Duke, who had lived with his family on a lot next to the camp and hosted an annual midsummer fireworks camp benefit there, had sold 57 adjacent acres to the town and county in 2003 for $12 million, and had long wanted to see the camp itself end up in public ownership.
    Several months after it was placed on the market with an asking price of $12 million in 2006, the town and county obtained an appraisal and began preparing a bid.
    In 2007, the town board approved a resolution authorizing the joint purchase. But along the way, and through several town administrations — under former supervisors Jay Schneiderman, who remained involved in the process when he became a county legislator, Bill McGintee, and, most recently, the current supervisor, Bill Wilkinson — the quest to purchase the property encountered many a snag.
    Neighbors concerned about recreational activities on the property creating a disturbance and drawing hordes from across the county eventually mounted a lawsuit challenging procedural irregularities, and several steps, including an environmental impact assessment and public hearings, had to be retraced.
    Real estate values plummeted during the contract period, raising questions about whether the purchase price, negotiated before the bottom of the market dropped out, was too high. Rather than seeking a private buyer, Boys and Girls Harbor (the renamed camp organization, which grew into a multifaceted organization based in New York City) waited for the closing, in recent years occasionally sending representatives to speak to town officials to keep things moving along.
    Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and management, oversaw the process. His participation was key, Alan Sosne, an attorney for Boys and Girls Harbor, said this week.
    Mr. Duke said that he had resisted suggestions to pursue legal action because of the delayed closing. But, he said, turning over the camp “was a very emotional experience for me.” During its operation, he estimated that 24,000 or 25,000 children had passed through. “I keep in touch,” he said, and a number of alumni were upset about the sale of the camp. However, the money will go to support the Harbor’s programs in the city, Mr. Duke said.
    A management plan for the property, prepared by Mr. Wilson, calls for the demolition of all but one of the buildings there — Memorial Hall, which served as the camp mess hall and meeting place. The demolition costs can be taken from the town’s community preservation fund, which receives the proceeds of a 2-percent tax on real estate transactions.
    In developing uses for the property, the management plan says, “it is our goal that the mission of Boys and Girls Harbor to encourage good physical, intellectual, and social development be interwoven with the existing overall character of the neighboring residential community, while protecting the site’s natural resources.”
    The property may be used for educational activities and classes, bicycling, and guided trail walks, according to the management plan.
    The camp will be closed at night except for organized skywatching activities. Camping, fires, sports league games, and sports fields or courts, hunting, outdoor lighting, and food concessions or sales will be prohibited.
    Infrastructure for the ropes course is to be maintained, but the ropes removed to control use of the course, and a climbing wall, also considered a possible hazard, will be dismantled. Links to trails on the adjacent property, which has frontage on Three Mile Harbor, will also be maintained.
     An access over a private driveway, which had been used for years by the camp, was not included in the sale. There will be a new driveway into the property from Springy Banks Road.
    Mr. Sosne, the Boys and Girls Harbor attorney, said yesterday that he would write to the East Hampton Town Board with a suggestion that the site be named the Tony Duke Sr. Boys and Girls Harbor Park.


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