The East Hampton Town Board has backed away from the purchase of a house and land in Springs that was opposed by the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee and will instead hold a hearing next Thursday on the purchase of a 12-acre portion of the parcel for $1.2 million.
Excluding the house and its surrounding four acres will bring the original $2.7 million purchase price down by $1.5 million. Members of the citizens advisory committee had argued that buying the relatively new house was unnecessary to achieve adequate land preservation, and had suggested the plan now being discussed.
According to a subdivision plan for the land at 115 Neck Path, the house would sit on a separate lot, while two other building lots and an eight-acre reserve area would be created. The town is now proposing to purchase those two lots and the reserve. The money would come from the community preservation fund.
The revised proposal led David Buda, an outspoken board watcher and member of the Springs Citizens Advisory Committee, to give kudos to the board at a meeting last Thursday.
Mr. Buda has expressed concerns over the years about a number of proposed preservation fund purchases, “in some instances . . . based on the dollar amount of the price to be paid, and in other instances . . . about the necessity for, or wisdom of, the proposed C.P.F. purchase,” he said last Thursday.
“By your consideration of another approach, you are showing that public hearings actually serve a useful purpose, and are not just a ‘dog and pony’ show,” he said. “You are demonstrating that you listened to what a unanimous Springs Citizens Advisory Committee had to say. And, by being flexible and by transcending your prior views, you are making it clear that this town board truly understands the meaning of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation: ‘Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’ ”
In some instances, Mr. Buda has argued that an outright purchase of property by the town was unnecessary to achieve the public goals of maintaining a wooded roadside buffer or protecting habitat, asserting that town zoning and land-use regulations in effect can achieve the same result.
He echoed that position in comments about another proposed land purchase that was the subject of a hearing last Thursday — 2.5 acres at 54 Northwest Landing Road in East Hampton, which include a house, for $630,000. It is owned by Robert Aldrich.
Although the preservation fund is flush, and does not add to the townspeople’s property tax burden as its proceeds come from a 2-percent tax on real estate transfers, “you have a legal and moral obligation to be fiduciaries,” Mr. Buda told the board.
He called several previous and proposed acquisitions of parcels containing a house an “unfortunate trend.”
The Northwest parcel, he said, is not proposed to be subdivided and contains wetlands, so if left in private hands it will not become more developed.
“When the C.P.F. has nothing better to do than to buy a house and to tear it down, that is wasteful, it is illogical, it’s destructive,” he said.
The land is primarily undeveloped, with freshwater wetlands that empty into Northwest Creek and Northwest Harbor, and is adjacent to other preserved sites, Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and management, said at the hearing. It is in a pine barrens area and a harbor protection overlay district. Wetlands had to be filled to construct the house, Mr. Wilson said this week.
Jeremy Samuelson, another speaker at the hearing and the director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, disagreed with Mr. Buda. “We actually have a lot of wetlands in this town that are threatened,” he said. “The idea that we shouldn’t acquire wetlands for public interest, or drinking water quality, or surface water quality . . . it defies logic,” he said.
“I would like someone to tell me how a house remaining on this property threatens the wetlands,” Mr. Buda said. “There are better areas where the money should be spent. If you told me that this house was going to be donated through the town’s housing services department to some worthy person, I’d feel better about it.”
In a presentation the night before at Town Hall on an East Hampton water quality report, Christopher Gobler, a professor at the State University at Stony Brook, had called Northwest Creek a hot spot for water contamination, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said. The land purchase, Mr. Cantwell said, would eliminate “existing development,” and the septic system associated with the house.
In a unanimous vote later in the meeting, the town board authorized the purchase.
Along with the new hearing on the Neck Path land buy, a second hearing to take place next Thursday night is on a proposed new law that would restrict chain stores or restaurants, or “formula businesses,” in East Hampton Town.
The law would prohibit them in proximity to historic districts or designated historic landmarks and allow them in central business districts only after a prescribed review and the issuance of a special permit by the planning board. They would be limited in size, and prevented from looking like other related businesses elsewhere.
The hearings begin at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.