Vote for Open Space In Amagansett

It is worth reflecting back on what might have been

    An Amagansett development scheme that was met with vehement and nearly unanimous opposition appears headed toward a more than satisfactory solution. A hearing is to be held in Town Hall this evening about whether to use just over $10 million from the community preservation fund to buy the so-called 555 property on Montauk Highway, where a luxury village of some 79 apartments and houses had been planned for those 55 and older. Though specific ideas about how the land will be used are in the formative stage, its preservation for open space and, with any luck, farming, deserve support.

    It is worth reflecting back on what might have been. During the former town board’s tenure, the landowner, a Connecticut company, sought an entirely new zoning designation that would have allowed high-density housing to be sold at market rates at the site. A draft law that would have made this possible foundered after a public outcry and was also roundly rejected by the Suffolk Planning Commission. After a mostly new town board took over in January, the proposal was dropped for good.

    The public will be heard tonight on whether the town should buy the most-visible portion of the 555 site while a smaller parcel to the west, for which affordable housing is a possibility, would remain in the developer’s control. While $10 million might sound like a whole lot of money for 19 acres, it is not entirely out of line given recent prices, such as a recent $18.75 million deal for a single Wainscott parcel. Then, too, had the development been approved, it might have brought the developer 10 times as much in sales.

    As tonight approached, we heard rumblings that the town would be better off paying somewhat less by purchasing only what are known as the development rights on the property. However, as has been increasingly seen, such arrangements preclude public access to preserved acreage, and in the case of farmland, generally come with  no assurance that the land will actually see a plow. A full, fee simple deal would be in the community’s best interest.

    As to the property’s future, agriculture should be the first preference if the soil is suitable or could be restored. In addition, East Hampton actually has few places where large charity events can be held on public sites. The former 555 property has successfully hosted the Wounded Warrior Rock the Farm benefit, which should be allowed to continue. There are other options that could be explored, including a farmers market or riding facility. The first step is to approve the deal with the property owners.