Preservation Hinges on Appraisal

Bistrian family, town, neighbors, ‘third parties’ all join farmland discussion

They were preaching to the choir at Monday night’s meeting of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee. Judging by their response to one another’s comments, all but one of the 60 or so people gathered at the American Legion Hall were there for a single purpose, to urge that East Hampton Town purchase the 30-acre Bistrian property north and west of the hamlet’s municipal parking lot and preserve it as the farmland it has been for as long as anyone can remember.

However, as Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said at the start, “It’s a question of negotiating a fair and equitable price.” The Bistrians are asking $30 million for the land, according to Britton Bistrian, the family spokeswoman, while an appraisal commissioned by the town some years ago pegged its value at about $19 million.

When Kieran Brew, a member of the committee, asked whether the town would seek a new appraisal, Mr. Cantwell surprised the crowd by answering, “We have two appraisals, one completed in the past month.” He declined to elaborate, saying that he preferred to “leave the details” to the town’s director of land acquisition and management, Scott Wilson, “and keep the elected officials a little distant from it.”

Mr. Wilson was almost as reticent, saying by phone the next morning that “we don’t negotiate publicly. It’s between the town and the seller.” He added, however, that “I know there are third parties interested . . . there’s other parties out there, but I can’t reveal any information that will make it harder for us to accomplish what we all want.”

Whether the “other parties” are developers, environmental groups, or something in between, neither Mr. Wilson nor Mr. Cantwell would say, and Ms. Bistrian, who was at the meeting, said Tuesday that she’d been as surprised as anyone to hear about a new appraisal, much less of any “third parties” coming in. The town and the family have had “no active negotiations in months,” she said.

Ten contiguous parcels are on the table. The Bistrians purchased the easternmost, just under three acres abutting Amber Waves Farm, within the past year from the Suffolk County Water Authority. Altogether, the land, zoned for two-acre lots, could yield as many as 23 houses — the three largest lots are subdividable, Ms. Bistrian noted — which, according to an online petition from Windmill Lane neighbors called Save Our Farmland Amagansett, would “significantly increase traffic” there and on nearby roads and “increase the number of potential summer rentals and associated problems with megamansions right on top of the village.”

Negotiations are complicated, Mr. Cantwell told the crowd, because the parcel contains “different lots of different sizes that are in different ownerships.” The word he used to describe it was “checkerboarded,” meaning in real estate parlance that no two adjoining parcels are in the same name (lest the area be upzoned and they be merged). But all are owned by Bistrian family members, he said, and “the various family members are negotiating as one.”

After Mr. Cantwell assured him that the community preservation fund would cover the purchase if a deal is reached, Michael Cinque, the owner of Amagansett Wines and Liquors on Main Street, speaking of the forthcoming expansion of the parking lot following the town’s acquisition of two lots east of it, said, “I still think it leaves us 60 spots short of needed parking. Can the town buy a little more, maybe 150 feet width of the lot, for another 60 spaces?”

But Tina Piette, deploring the difficulty of making a left turn out of the lot now, said that if still more spaces were added it would be impossible to get out.

Speaking of the parking lot, Mr. Cantwell announced that work on the hamlet’s long-awaited bathrooms will resume “in a week or so” and should be finished in a month or less. The expansion of the lot will be completed before next summer, he said.

Scott Crowe, who started the Save Our Farmland petition, returned to the topic of the evening. “We want agriculture,” he said. “It seems the only issue here is price.” Citing a state law that “a public road that hasn’t been used for six years shall be deemed abandoned,” he asked that the Bistrians “abandon the threat of paving.”

Forty-six years ago, when the town bought the land for the parking lot from Peter Bistrian, it agreed to put in and pave an L-shaped access road from the lot to Windmill Lane, but never did. The Bistrians now say they will install the road themselves by Oct. 10 if no agreement is reached before then.

Bill DiScipio, a lone voice crying in the wilderness, said he would prefer to see the land developed. The homebuyers, he predicted, would be away most of the year and their taxes would keep other people’s down.

“Preserve it,” said Robert Kay of Windmill Lane. “Preserve, so Amagansett doesn’t become suburbanized as other communities have.”

“Our intention is to preserve it, for agriculture,” Mr. Cantwell agreed. “The town has a history of identifying the breadbaskets of our community.” He instanced Long Lane in East Hampton, “where we have a lot of contiguous farmland. Farming is thriving, despite economic predictions 40 years ago” that it would vanish.

“Every piece of farmland that has productive soil, we want to preserve,” the supervisor declared.

Sustained applause followed. Mr. Cantwell waited for it to die down, then added, “provided we can pay for it.