A proposal to clear overgrown acreage throughout East Hampton Town in an effort to open up views unseen in decades has some residents up in arms, although it is still in its earliest stage.
The plan, the brainchild of Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, targets some 25 places where invasive species such as Asiatic bittersweet, mugwort, and ailanthus have taken over, blocking prospects of creeks, ponds, fields, bays, and ocean. They include Accabonac Harbor and Pussy’s Pond in Springs; Fresh Pond and Bluff Road in Amagansett; Northwest Creek, Chatfield’s Pond, Ely Brook Pond, Three Mile Harbor, Scoy Pond, and Northwest Creek in East Hampton, and Old West Lake Drive and Stepping Stones Pond in Montauk, among others.
Some of the targeted areas are owned by the Town of East Hampton, some by the town trustees, others by individuals, the Nature Conservancy, New York State, or Suffolk County. A few are nature preserves. Mr. Stanzione has given the town board a description of the invasive species in each place, the number of workers required for removal, the machinery needed, and the estimated cost.
Project Open Vistas, as it is called, “opens million-dollar views to working people who are being shortchanged,” said the councilman. He wants to begin with smaller, more contained areas, and said, “We have to prioritize the value of the view versus the cost of implementing the view.”
Mr. Stanzione stressed that any clearing would be environmentally sensitive.
There have been questions raised about several aspects of the plan. Permissions will be required for access in some cases, and it appears that the town board may need to adopt a formal resolution to begin the project. Significant populations of wildlife live in the overgrowth — rabbits, foxes, deer, birds. And finally, there is the question of who would actually foot the bill.
The Nature Conservancy, said its executive director, Nancy Nagle Kelley, has still not been told of the project’s details, but “looks forward to working with the town to make sure that the land which we own at the nature preserve is not compromised in any way.”
One of the more controversial areas is Bluff Road from Indian Wells Highway to Atlantic Avenue in Amagansett.
The Bluff Road Historic District guidelines in the town code recommend restoring the views from Bluff Road across the dunes to the ocean.
In part because the area lies in a historic district, this “test case,” as he called it, has come before the East Hampton Town Architectural Review Board, which is still considering it. Regardless of its decision, Mr. Stanzione plans to move forward with Open Vistas.
There is controversy also over whether the Bluff Road land belongs to the town or the Nature Conservancy, which sections will be cleared, and where the money is going to come from for that part of the work.
In a May 10 letter to Robert Schwagerl, chairman of the review board, Ms. Kelley said that “the town-owned property in the Bluff Road Historical District is partially disturbed,” adding that “The Nature Conservancy recommends that any pruning or trimming to afford better views be limited to areas where there is currently a maintained grassy area.” Ms. Kelley said the conservancy would not support the cutting of mature vegetation to the west, beyond established grassy areas, “and we recommend that these and other areas along Bluff Road remain in their natural state.”
At a town board meeting on June 14, Bob Silverstone of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk had questions about the proposed clearing of the wooded town-owned property from Meeting House Lane to Atlantic Avenue in Amagansett. “When someone wants a zoning law changed for their personal benefit, we call it spot zoning,” he said.
“A handful of residents in the area want a longstanding policy changed so they can see the ocean from their windows.”
Mr. Silverstone reminded the board of its longstanding opposition to clear-cutting, and said taxpayer money used for Open Vistas would only benefit a small number of people.
The Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee was divided at its June 13 meeting about the Bluff Road question. According to its former chairwoman, Rona Klopman, “A lot of people are against doing it, and the cost of it, which we were told was $20,000.”
There were also questions about whether or not Scott King, the East Hampton Town Highway Superintendent, would be involved. “If King does it, they will take a mechanical pick and just plow it down,” said Ms. Klopman.