With a unanimous vote last Thursday night, the East Hampton Town Board approved the $1.1 million purchase of a 1.2-acre parcel of land at 427 Cranberry Hole Road in Amagansett, which officials envision as a public access to the beach along Gardiner’s Bay.
The vote came after a hearing at which a number of neighbors voiced concerns about the ultimate use of the land, particularly whether vehicles would drive onto the beach.
Although details of a management plan — a document created to guide use of specific public lands — have not been worked out, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley assured the speakers that “it will stay pretty much natural other than a pathway down to the water.”
The board is also seeking to purchase, for $775,000, a 1.4-acre parcel on the other side of Cranberry Hole Road, which, Ms. Quigley said, would work “in tandem” with the waterfront site, to provide an unpaved area where people could park their cars so they could walk down to the water. A hearing on that purchase will be held next Thursday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
The site approved for purchase is owned by Linda Edwards Baker, and the second, on the landward side of the road, is owned by Lynda Edwards, a relative.
After Joan Mackall, who owns land in the area, asked the board if “driving access” to the beach would be allowed, Ms. Quigley reminded her that the East Hampton Town Trustees have jurisdiction over most of the town’s beaches, excluding Montauk, and allow beach driving.
“Would you grant access by cars across your land?” Ms. Mackall asked. “I think there’s a possibility,” said Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who often takes the opportunity, during such discussions, to describe his regular habit of taking his truck on the beach.
“Driving on the beach has really become out of control, and it’s just so unnecessary,” Ms. Mackall said. She and others pointed out that the area is subject to severe erosion, and fragile.
The waterfront lot approved for purchase is only 180 to 200 feet wide, said Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and management.
Tom Knobel, a former town councilman who worked on the town’s local waterfront revitalization program plan, said the plan, adopted after a long drafting and discussion procedure, calls for obtaining an access to the water in that area for baymen in their vehicles. “You shouldn’t out of hand dismiss it as an access point,” he told the board. “Obviously, the management plan is everything.”
“How do you control it, from being an access for some wonderful local fishermen to becoming a parking lot on the beach?” a speaker asked.
Katie Sisson, a Cranberry Hole Road resident, asked if a proposed management plan would be subject to an environmental review. And, she asked, if the other property is not also purchased, would beach parking go on the water side?
“One thing to keep in mind,” Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said, “is there won’t be a house built there.”
“The purpose, to me, is to gain an access for the public, and without a place to park, how are they getting access?” Ms. Quigley said.
Others raised concerns about the second parcel as well. “That property, and the property across the street, is loaded with native plants,” Dave Sullivan said.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said that the entire board had agreed to pursue the purchases. The area “is very important environmentally — very sensitive land,” he said, and key to “having access for our local fishermen, in an east wind, to get to their traps.”
“You’re either protecting the area, or tearing up the area,” said Debbie Mackall, noting that the board was acknowledging the sensitivity of the land while also talking about vehicular access.
Many property owners along that shorefront have spent money to bolster the eroding shoreline, Joseph Gottesman told the board, asking if the town has a plan to fight erosion on the parcel it is buying.
If not, another speaker said, “That would mean that you have no idea before you buy the property if you’ll have to spend more money to deal with erosion on the property.”
The money for the purchase — as well as for that of the second parcel, if approved — will come from the town’s community preservation fund, said Ms. Quigley. The fund, which comes from a two-percent tax on most real estate transfers, also can provide money for land stewardship, she said.
“I only see a trail there,” she said, “so there would be no big ‘management’ issues — just forces of nature.”
“I’m sure all your comments will be considered in any management plan, going forward,” Mr. Van Scoyoc told the concerned residents.