Good Buy, Let’s See More

    The East Hampton Town Board’s decision on Thursday to buy the four-acre Northwest Kennels property off Swamp Road in Northwest Woods was the right call and something many residents would like to see a lot more of.
    With the board’s 4-0 vote in favor last week, an $837,500 deal for the property will soon be signed. The land borders on already-preserved woodland and is at a headwater of Northwest Creek. There is talk of providing residents with racks or even enclosed storage for kayaks and other small human-powered watercraft, as well as opening up a trail head to allow visitors additional access to the county and state parkland nearby. The price was right, and the agreement seems good for all concerned.
    Looking back further, however, it is reasonable to lament that there have not been more such purchases recently. Following the disastrous misappropriation of community preservation money during the Bill McGintee years, land buys were forced to a halt. The program had to be put on ice while the town’s accounts were put in order after Mr. McGintee’s resignation. But some of the stalling may have been attributable to the town board majority’s sympathy for the view that more of our vacant land should go on the real estate market. Spending under the Republican town board dwindled, hitting an all-time low in 2010 of $6.3 million, while at the same time the fund’s revenues were increasing. Only two parcels were acquired that year, and most of the money actually went to debt payments for earlier land buys.
    There is reason for hope. An audit of the community preservation fund’s income and expenses for 2008 through 2010 is in the final stages. With the dollars and cents finally sorted out, the town board should see no more impediments in what is now an excellent time, given the economic doldrums and depressed prices, for a spending spree on preservation.
    The East Hampton Town Board must become active buyers of suitable vacant land whenever it becomes available. It is reasonable to expect that the real estate slump will not last forever and that when the next boom comes, today’s deals will seem like bargains.
    Land the town does not preserve will be seen as a missed opportunity and a long-term liability for whichever political party fails to act. Going into the run-up to the 2011 election, residents should demand a renewed commitment to the preservation program.