Preservation Efforts Are on The Upswing

Thirteen potential land deals in the works
East Hampton Town will contribute $3.5 million to buy the development rights for more than four acres of farmland at Beach Lane and Wainscott Mail Street. The Peconic Land Trust will pay the remaining $3.5 million. David E. Rattray

       East Hampton Town’s protection of open space, farmland, or historic properties through use of the community preservation fund is off to a speedy start in 2014.

       “I think this board wants to be more aggressive in purchasing open space,” Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said Tuesday. “It’s moving the C.P.F. program forward at an accelerated pace.” The town board held hearings on four land deals last Thursday.

       According to Scott Wilson, director of land acquisition and management, 13 potential land deals are in process. The town has made offers on a number of properties, he said, and has commissioned appraisals on others. Two closings have taken place since the beginning of the year.

       “This board’s definitely hitting the ground running,” Mr. Wilson said yesterday. In a Jan. 16 resolution, the board voted unanimously to authorize up to $75,000 for appraisals, and, Mr. Wilson said, another authorization this year could be needed.

       All costs for land purchased through the preservation fund program are covered by the proceeds of a state-authorized 2-percent real estate transfer tax. The sales in each of the five East End towns generate the money to be spent.

       East Hampton’s fund totaled in the $56 million to $58 million range this week, Mr. Wilson said — more than enough to cover the cost of all of the purchases under consideration, debt service on previous purchases, and then some. Quarterly receipts from the real estate transfer tax will continue; there have been record increases of late in a post-economic slump correction. Last year brought close to a 29-percent increase in preservation fund revenue here, with just over $28 million flowing in.

       Wainscott farmland, and a bucolic view across a field stretching from the corner of Beach Lane toward the ocean, enjoyed by plein air painters, passers-by, and visitors to the farmstand there in season, will be preserved through the purchase of development rights over the 4.4 acres, which was approved by the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday.

       The town and the Peconic Land Trust will make the purchase jointly, with each paying half of the $7 million cost. The town will use money from the C.P.F., while the land trust will seek private donors for its portion, particularly among Wainscott residents, Melanie Cirillo of the land trust told the town board last week. The land is owned by Jane Weigley.

       A similar partnership enabled the town and the land trust to acquire development rights over almost 20 acres of the adjacent 24-acre Babinski farm, also for $7 million, in 2005. East Hampton contributed $5 million toward that purchase, while nearby residents, with the land trust’s help, formed the Wainscott Farmland Protection Fund and raised the other $2 million.

       The new purchase, Mr. Wilson said, will help accomplish the goals of the town comprehensive plan as well as those of the preservation fund. The land in question is designated a Statewide Area of Scenic Significance, and its owner, he noted, wanted to ensure that it would be available to the next generation of farmers.

       Also approved for purchase last Thursday night was a four-acre tract of “high-quality oak, pitch pine, and white pine forest, with a low-bush blueberry understory,” as Mr. Wilson described it. The site, at 143 Middle Highway in East Hampton, is north of more than 20 acres of town-owned parcels, and a well-used trail traverses the entire area. With the new public land addition, Mr. Wilson said, the trail could connect to a more extensive trail system at the end of Middle Highway. The acreage, which is in a county-designated groundwater protection area, is owned by Christopher Barnett and Christine Marra, and will cost $750,000.

       Also moving ahead after a positive vote from the town board last week will be the purchase of just over eight acres at 303 Town Line Road in Wainscott, owned by Wendy Fitzpatrick, for $885,000. The acreage is important to groundwater protection, Mr. Wilson said; it is located in both county and town groundwater protection areas, and in the Long Island Pine Barrens region.

       It is adjacent to 166 acres of preserved land, and could provide a new trail connection. “The town has made significant strides to protect lands in [the] Wainscott woods,” Mr. Wilson commented.

       “There are still some quality acquisitions, and we’re certainly trying to build on what we already have,” he said yesterday, noting that the addition of adjacent parcels to already preserved tracts furthers ecological and habitat protection.      

       A hearing on a fourth property, which the town has proposed to buy for $2.7 million, was held open after last Thursday’s meeting for written comment to be accepted through next Thursday, as a public notice of the hearing was printed without mention of a house on the land.

       The 16.5-acre lot, on Neck Path in Springs, is in the Accabonac Harbor critical environmental area, a harbor watershed and a county-designated key environmental area. “Reducing development [there] has the potential to positively impact the quality of groundwater and surface waters by reducing contaminants carried into the harbor,” Mr. Wilson said at the hearing.

       Although the center of the lot has been cleared and a house and pool constructed, “the majority of the parcel remains a woodland habitat area contributing to the ecological value of existing preserved lands,” he said, and provides a trail link between adjacent town parcels to east and west, connecting to trails on the Jacobs Farm property and the Paumanok Path.

       The purchase would provide both open space and recreational uses. The pool would be removed, Mr. Wilson said, but the house could be used for activities in conjunction with the Department of Parks and Recreation, though it too might  be removed.

       David Buda, a Springs resident who spoke at the hearing, questioned whether the purchase was a wise use of preservation fund money. A preliminary approval to subdivide the site into three house lots, which would be situated along Neck Path, would result in a reserve area of almost eight untouched acres alongside the neighboring open space, which, Mr. Buda argued, would provide the “same ecological benefit” as buying all 16.5 acres. An annual $25,000 in school and town taxes coming from the property would thus be continued, he said.

       Mr. Buda said he agreed with preservation fund purchases in general, but, he said, the town “should not become spendthrift just because the coffers of C.P.F. are overflowing.”

       “Unless you have some specific pinpointed recreational plan for this property,” he said, “I frankly don’t think it is the best use for C.P.F. money.”

       Debra Foster, another speaker, disagreed. “This is a critical parcel to preserve,” said Ms. Foster, who also lives in Springs. “It’s the only thing blocking a beautiful trail along Accabonac Harbor.” If the lot were subdivided, she said, the town might not be able to require a trail access through it.