East Hampton Town officials, as well as residents of Windmill Lane and the surrounding area of Amagansett, are hoping to buy about 30 acres of farmland from the Bistrian family despite a more-than $10 million difference between what the town and the family believe the land is worth.
Spread over 10 separate parcels, the site is a bucolic backdrop to the hamlet’s retail center. Best seen from the parking lot north of Main Street, the land has in recent years been planted with corn and other crops. There is some dispute between the town and the family about an access that so far exists only on paper; if opened and paved, it would have an undesirable impact on the residents of Windmill Lane. The Bistrians apparently own a narrow strip off Windmill Lane that could be used as a driveway to at least one of the lots as well.
Reportedly, the town has offered a lump $22 million for all the parcels. The family has rejected that as far too low, saying its own appraisal came in at $35 million. Who has the correct number is hard to say, but by way of comparison, in 2014 the owners of the 19-acre 555 Montauk Highway property also in Amaganset took $10 million from the town to walk away from their plan for a luxury senior citizens village.
The Bistrians, whose many businesses have over the years grown handsomely from East Hampton’s building booms, have profited well, from outside appearances. It is their right to look out for the family’s best benefit, but when real estate values here are inflated beyond reason by outside forces, such as Wall Street bonuses and foreign investment, it is disappointing to see such longtime members of the community refusing to act for the greater good by agreeing to what appears a fair offer.
There is a tradition here of people doing the right thing for the land and for their neighbors. The late Deborah Light, for example, simply gave hundreds of acres of Amagansett farmland to the Peconic Land Trust; she was one for whom preservation was a priority. And there are many others who have been happy to take what the town’s appraisers said was fair value for property bought using the community preservation fund. There is no rule that everyone has to be as charitable, but it is a noble cause, and those who do so join a proud tradition.
East Hampton Town should not cave in. The center of Amagansett would not be a disastrous location for additional development. The Bistrians’ claim about the number of houses that could be built on the site seems to be significantly overstated. East Hampton Town requires that 70 percent of high-quality farmland be set aside, which could be a hurdle should the family seek to reconfigure the properties in a way that would attract developers of luxury housing. Ultimately, the impact of houses there might be not all that significant.
The issue is that the town should not be suckered into overpaying, despite public pressure. To do so would be to tie up too much of the community preservation fund on a single purchase at a time when there are plenty of other priorities for the money. This may be one that the town has to let slip away.