The Horse Is Gone, the Barn Should Go, Too

East Hampton Town’s decision to remove a horse barn on land it bought in Amagansett in 2014 has raised a bit of skepticism. Though some might consider tearing down a barn wasteful, it is the right decision.

The parcel, 19 acres on the north side of Montauk Highway bordered by the Long Island Rail Road tracks, is just east of the hamlet’s downtown. Until its purchase with money from the community preservation fund, the property was under review for a 79-unit luxury development. After the town took title, various ideas were floated for its use, but none could be settled upon, with the poor quality of its soil a deterrent for farming. As time went on, the barn, not all that well constructed to begin with, began to decay.

When voters authorized the community preservation fund in 1998, the understanding was that the money, from real estate transfers, was to be used for open space acquisition for environmental, agricultural, and recreational reasons and to reduce the eventual buildout of East Hampton, countering losses of natural habitat as well as limiting the ultimate number of residences and commercial structures. A secondary purpose was historical preservation. A year ago, East Hampton voters also approved the use of up to 20 percent of annual C.P.F. income for water quality improvements.

As an aside, consensus on the official name of the property is yet to come. The Connecticut developer called the project 555, a nod to its address and that the rental of the apartments would have been limited to those 55 and older. Its previous owner called it Ocean View Farm, though nothing much had grown there in quite some time. The bid specification for the barn’s removal refers to it as the Putnam site, referring to the corporate name of the would-be Connecticut developer. 

Razing the barn makes financial sense for the town. The cost of maintaining the building in its present condition is not obviously legal under the community preservation law. Leasing it to a private party as a horse stable or for storing farm equipment would also appear to be prohibited, but were that legal it might bring its own set of problems for officials. To the extent that some of the wood and windows could be reclaimed, town officials should try to do so. However, removing the barn and planting the area with a cover crop, at least for the time being, is the right approach.

We strongly support the property’s use as an active public space. A walking path on the periphery has been envisioned, leaving room for the annual Soldier Ride convergence there and other worthy events. Another appealing use would be for a portion to be set aside for community garden plots. If the town goes ahead with the massive and arguably necessary new medical facility on Pantigo Place, the ball field there could be relocated to the Amagansett site. There are plenty of good options. Getting rid of a horse barn, which under the best of outcomes would benefit few residents, is just the beginning.