The East End Dunes Residents Association, which represents Napeague homeowners on land adjacent to a 38-acre oceanfront tract owned by the town, asked the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday to designate most of the site as a nature preserve.
In a formal application, the association nominated the property for the designation. Should that occur, a spokesman for the group said, the association would donate $25,000 to the town within five business days. The spokesman, Mike Sterlacci, said the money could go to the creation of a management plan for the preserve and to help pay the costs of stewardship, such as the clearing of invasive plants.
With crowding at town beaches a topic this summer, Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley has revived discussion of new, public bathing beaches. After Mr. Sterlacci made his presentation, Ms. Quigley said, “I personally have a problem with neighbors contributing money for an adjoining preserve to ensure that nobody else gets on it, because it smacks of exclusivity, It smacks of taking ownership of it in your heart.”
The town bought the property, just west of the Lobster Roll restaurant, for approximately $8 million 12 years ago. At the time it also swapped some land with the restaurant’s owners, envisioning a parking area and wooden walkway leading over the dunes to the beach. The town has been unable, however, to get permission for that from the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The group had appeared before the board in October following a discussion about using part of the property for a parking lot for a new, lifeguarded beach. Members of the group voiced concerns about traffic and the potential for environmental damage.
On Tuesday, however, Mr. Sterlacci told the board that the site meets seven of eight criteria listed in the town code for designation as a nature preserve. They include the existence of freshwater or saltwater wetlands or ponds, habitats for endangered, threatened, or rare species, geological features such as bluffs or dunes, or “outstanding examples of natural communities.” The code requires the Town Planning or Natural Resources Departments to determine if a property meets those criteria.
If so, the town board must hold a public hearing on the designation within 45 days, and it may then dedicate “part, all, or none of the town-owned property discussed” as a nature preserve.
Once declared a nature preserve, a property may not be cleared or improved without a public hearing first taking place, unless, according to the code, the work is to “enhance educational or wilderness experiences” or to “provide opportunities that facilitate the purposes” outlined in a management plan for the site. A majority-plus-one vote of the board is required to proceed with any work discussed at a hearing or to lease or sell nature preserve property.
Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson asked Mr. Sterlacci at the meeting what the association envisions should the town make the nature preserve designation. “Does that in your mind preclude making it a public beach?” he asked. “And when we say it is a public beach, that means parking, lifeguards, bathrooms.” Mr. Sterlacci replied that the town would be free to pursue any allowable avenues.
Later in the meeting, Mr. Sterlacci was asked by Mr. Wilkinson if the group would be willing to make the $25,000 donation if it were to be used at another town nature preserve. He said that was possible.
The board also discussed the possibility of selling naming rights for town assets such as nature preserves after Mr. Wilkinson told the board that someone, whom he declined to name, had approached him about naming the Napeague site.