Cliffhangers' Candidate: Sagaponack residents are weighing their options

Published May 11, 2005

In an unheated beachfront cottage with a roaring fire, gourmet treats, and hot cider, Gary Ireland asked his neighbors and fellow villagers on Saturday to support his candidacy for Sagaponack Village's first mayor.

Mr. Ireland, a lawyer who works primarily in New York but has an office in Bridgehampton, is running against Bill Tillotson, a full-time Sagaponack resident who owns a nursery and is co-chairman of the Sagaponack Citizens Advisory Committee.

A lawsuit Mr. Ireland filed on behalf of his mother against the county to cut back or remove the Georgica jetty field and replenish beaches to the west was joined by Southampton Town last year. Mr. Ireland's grandparents built the cottage and it has been moved twice since then.

Some 20 guests mingled inside and outside the cottage. Many of them were beachfront property owners who expressed frustration that a run of fish off the beach at Town Line Road that had held steady for several hours was out of reach without a boat.
Roy Scheider and his son, Christian, as well as Ashby and Pat Grantham, who have lost hundreds of feet of dune between them, had more pressing concerns. They were on hand to endorse Mr. Ireland and his efforts to correct beach erosion in Sagaponack.
The Granthams, who are still sleeping in their house even though they believe the ocean could take it out in the next storm, said that Mr. Ireland "has a grip on what's going on."

In contrast, Mrs. Grantham cited the various town and state officials who came to "witness a disaster" during and after the last storm, but would not allow them to protect their house with anything stronger than sandbags, which, she said, "won't last five minutes." Mrs. Grantham said that after the storms, the town poured "20 truckloads of sand at the end of [Town Line Road] that the ocean took away."

She said that Sagaponack needs "politicians who are reasonable, who just listen to you. Gary is that person. He knows about beach erosion. He's been trying to get the jetties removed for years."
Mrs. Grantham said she did not expect people to "give us a dune. We'll do it." Nonetheless she wants something hard underneath the sand. In front of the Granthams' house the erosion has revealed large concrete pieces shaped like jacks and piles of old cars, upon which their house is perched. Until the 1960s, "people were encouraged to throw anything in front of the dune. They understood that you need something hard there."

Mr. Scheider, who brought in truckloads of sand to protect his house, said he did not favor "hard solutions" such as rocks, but did want an aggressive approach for the removal of the Georgica jetties and for regular beach replenishment.

"I've seen pictures of the beach over long periods of time," Mr. Scheider said. "The sand comes and goes naturally." But with the jetties to the east, he said the beaches need regular nourishment, which he has been doing himself for 11 years.

After two very damaging storms this season, "there is a cliff of Sagaponack clay in front of my house," he said. The sand he brought in was very expensive and he knows it will wash out, but he hopes it will get him through the winter.
"Gary is fighting the good fight," he said. "No one in East Hampton wants to take responsibility for those groins. No other politician has made a commitment."

Cynthia Sestito, a local chef, provided food and drink for the group. Paul Guilden, a Town Line Road resident who is not registered to vote, agreed to make phone calls for Mr. Ireland.

Many people said they came because they believed Sagaponack Village needs control over its zoning. Barbara Skydel, who spends her weekends on Daniel's Lane, said the first issue for Sagaponack was "what it looks like, what it's becoming, and what we have lost - the very nature of what Sagaponack was about. We're at a critical point in Sagaponack's future. If we do not add zoning now, Sagaponack will be lost. It almost is."

Mr. Ireland supports the creation of a zoning board. The Sagaponack Party, of which Mr. Tillotson is a member along with four trustee candidates, has said it would preserve the present functions of the town in order not to increase taxes.
Mr. Tillotson said last Thursday that a zoning board in a small community could "tear the place apart." Although Mr. Tillotson has been opposed to certain town zoning decisions in the past, he worries that the people who would want the control might want to do too much.

He wondered if Mr. Ireland ever sat through a six-hour town Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. "I'm amazed someone would want to do that for seven years." Most of the time, Mr. Tillotson noted, it was hard to get a quorum for a Citizens Advisory Committee meeting.
Mr. Tillotson said he spoke to people in North Haven who told him that the village zoning board asks less time of its members than the town Z.B.A. does, but that the money involved is considerable. Lawsuits against the village if it became too restrictive would be costly to taxpayers as well.

Some of those at Mr. Ireland's cottage on Saturday were still annoyed by Ira Rennert's house approval. Sheila and Albert Bialek, who have a house on Fairfield Pond Road, were part of a homeowners association that fought the Rennert development. They said Mr. Ireland would fight for them and would see that special exceptions to the zoning law not be allowed as they are in the town.

Mr. Ireland said he will also fight for more farmland preservation. Mr. Tillotson wondered if he had seen the actual numbers. He said that Sagaponack is receiving a good share of the town's interest and Community Preservation Funds. He cited the purchase of Poxabogue Golf Course, the recent purchase of the Lauder property, and other purchases.

In fact, the town has bought the rights or development rights to 247 acres in Sagaponack at a cost of $15.5 million. The total collected from the area's real estate transfers through May of this year is just over $10 million.

Mr. Ireland said he will continue to meet with groups and the media to get his message out before Election Day, which is Dec. 2. In contrast, Mr. Tillotson, who knows most of the area's registered voters, is taking a more laid-back approach. He left on Saturday for a vacation and will not be back until Wednesday.