Half a Loaf Won’t Do

There is much to be said for maintaining and preserving contiguous woodlands

    A pending public purchase of a roughly 16-acre parcel in Springs and allowing the site to be subdivided and developed, with an eight-acre, private reserved area, are not the same thing at all. Yet that is what some in the hamlet and a committee that advises the East Hampton Town Board appear to believe.

    The land is at 115 Neck Path and has a house roughly in its center. The issue is whether $2.7 million from the town’s community preservation fund should be used to buy it. The owners are willing to sell to the town, but at the same time are seeking approval for a three-lot subdivision.

    The perspective of those who are against the deal is that the subdivision, if approved, would set aside ample open space and that the town’s buying the land would remove it from the tax rolls. It’s kind of a have-your-cake-and-eat-it too idea.

    We think the property must instead become public land in its entirety and the house that is on it now should be removed.

    East Hampton residents have several times shown their support at the ballot box for the community preservation fund. Among its goals are retaining and improving the town’s environment and character, as well as limiting development. Money in the fund comes from a 2-percent tax on a portion of most real estate transactions, and thanks to the newly booming market and several years in which spending lagged, there is plenty of cash in hand and then some. According to the town, East Hampton’s C.P.F. income last year had reached well into pre-Great Recession levels, and there is no sign of a slowdown. The money is there; what will not be there forever is suitable places to spend it.

    The land at 115 Neck Path would appear to satisfy several of the qualifications listed as the town’s C.P.F. program goals. These include woodland preservation, groundwater protection, and adding to greenbelts and trails. As to the point about taxes, development over time costs municipalities more than does leaving land alone. Springs already has the highest residential density of all the town’s hamlets — and adding to that would be counterproductive.

    The acreage is roughly rectangular, extending to the back of the secluded Shaaray Pardes Accabonac Grove Cemetery. It is important to note that it is sandwiched between two town-owned lots, one of which shares a property line with another that reaches to Old Stone Highway. If the deal closes, there would be some 66 acres of open space in all there, extending from Old Stone to Neck Path in an area right smack in the middle of the Accabonac Creek watershed.

    Regarding C.P.F. purchases in general and this property in particular, there is much to be said for maintaining and preserving contiguous woodlands. It is a conservation axiom that fragmented forests are less than optimal habitat for many wild species.

    For the town board to agree with the Springs group that allowing three houses there is the same as saving and restoring the land would be to undermine the preservation fund itself. The deal should go ahead as planned.