East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson raised the idea of “sponsorship of town assets” at a town board meeting on Tuesday, after receiving an inquiry from someone who wanted to make a donation to have a town nature preserve named after themselves.
Mr. Wilkinson suggested that the town could also offer, for money, opportunities to name public streets.
“I’m a little bit concerned about how you would implement that,” Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said during a short board discussion of the idea. “I’m concerned about community character,” said the councilman, a former member of the town planning board. “We take place names very seriously here. We have a historic and community outlook, and for somebody to come in and just throw some money around, and have things named after them, that would be something I’d be concerned about,” he said.
“I’d hate to see us start to sell out to that kind of thing,” said Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, also a former member and chairwoman of the planning board.
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said that the town does accept donations of benches and the like, with plaques indicating that they are “in memory of” someone.
In addition, she said, Kim Shaw, the new town natural resources director, and Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and management have discussed with her, and will propose to the board, a program through which individuals or organizations could sponsor a nature preserve, by pledging to care for it.
But, Ms. Quigley said, “there are issues,” such as, “Does it create the feeling of ownership?” over public lands.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said he does not object to the idea of accepting contributions to help with the care of parks or preserves according to duly adopted management plans for the sites, similar to the “adopt-a-highway” program. Any signs erected would, in that case, say “sponsored by” versus renaming a site after someone, he said.
“This individual was inclined that their name be up on the asset,” Mr. Wilkinson said, at first declining to provide further details. Later, he said, the person who approached him had offered money in order to have naming rights for a tract of oceanfront town land on Napeague. The plot is the same area that neighbors hope to have designated as a nature preserve. The neighborhood group told the board at the same meeting on Tuesday that it would give the town $25,000 for the land’s upkeep if it is made a preserve.
“I’m against the trend of naming things after living people,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, “because their records are not complete; their lives are not done.”
Such a process, Ms. Overby said, could “memorialize someone important to the sponsor,” and not necessarily important to the community.
“To the extent that the motivation for doing this is fiscal . . . that we’re trying to raise money, let’s pursue the idea,” Councilman Dominick Stanzione said.
“Are we discussing a concept, or a specific proposal?” Mr. Van Scoyoc asked. “It’s a concept, Peter,” responded Mr. Wilkinson. “But the individual came to me. I’ll have that individual come to the board.”
Ms. Quigley pressed for a general discussion of the idea. “I think that talking about it generically is better than having an individual come,” she said. “Are we comfortable with sponsorship, and if so, how? I would like to at least look at the options and see how it might work,” she said.