Call Made for Woods’ Preservation

Planning board favors a town buy to head off Oakview Highway subdivision
Neighbors, from left, John and Regina Whitney, Nanci LaGarenne, Paula Weidmann, Dan Weidmann, Steve Cohen, and Dana Kalbacher, hope to prevent the development on Oakview Highway. T.E. McMorrow

    The East Hampton Town Planning Board held a public hearing June 13 on Ronald Webb’s plan to divide a piece of wooded land on Oakview Highway, East Hampton, just under nine acres in size, and divide it into eight house lots.
    Three neighbors spoke in opposition. One was Steve Cohen, a teacher at East  Hampton High School, who has lived next to the land for 39 years. “I’ve watched this property go from a beautiful, untouched property when Carl Hettiger owned it, now we’ve watched Mr. Webb put his piles of dirt and his piles of rock on the land,” said Mr. Cohen. “It is sad to see what happens to a beautiful piece of property that is really necessary to the community. The public needs this property as an open space. This is probably the most densely populated area in East Hampton. There are so many people, so many kids.”
    Mr. Cohen went on to say that he uses well water, as do many of his neighbors, and that the proposed development would have a major impact on the area’s fresh water, as well as the town’s drinking water.
    “I think the town would love having this property,” he concluded.
    “We, the planning board, have asked the town to look into acquiring this property,” responded Patrick Schutte, a board member. “Where it goes from there is out of our hands.”
     “I cannot speak so beautifully,” said the next speaker, Regina Whitney, in accented English, going on to say that “this property should belong to the town. It is the last piece of land where you can walk.” She mentioned the proximity of the trailer park on Oakview Higway, which is only yards away, as well as the plethora of wildlife on the land, as had Mr. Cohen.
    Ms. Whitney was followed to the podium by Dana Kalbacher. “This has been going on for five years now,” she said. “We started with preservation, the neighbors. We would love the town to preserve this. I would love for you to come down and take a walk with us.”
    Over the five years, she said, the project has been whittled down from a much larger proposal to the current eight units, but even that, said Ms. Kalbacher, would be a mistake. “We are over the top with congestion and traffic. Please take a good look at this.”
    Laurie Wiltshire of Land Planning Services spoke in favor of the project, telling the board there had been negotiations with the town regarding acquisition, but that the figures “weren’t even close.” She said the applicant had responded to previous board comments and requests by modifying his proposal, including ample screening, and providing, among the eight lots, one equal-size one for affordable housing. She encouraged the board to grant preliminary approval within its next two meetings.
    When Ms. Wiltshire finished her brief presentation, Ms. Whitney returned to the podium and questioned the amount of money Mr. Webb was seeking for acquisition. She said he had acquired the land from an aging Mrs. Hettiger at below-market price.
    “I agree with making money, but how greedy does he have to be?” she asked.
    On Saturday, seven opponents of the plan, all neighbors, met outside the property. Checking to make sure that No Trespassing signs were absent, they walked up the path into the woods that cover much of the acreage.
    Three large wild turkeys were seen walking through the woods. Deer cut across the path. The woods were quite thick, blocking out the sun.
    They left quietly, walking back toward Oakview Highway as the sun set.