Town Ready to Buy Disputed Amagansett Site

Where luxury, over-55 houses were planned, a hope for open space
Soldier Ride, a charity that raises money for wounded military veterans, has for several years hosted the Rock the Farm benefit on the former farmland along Montauk Highway in Amagansett. Carrie Ann Salvi

A large luxury development designed for people 55 and older on what had been farmland in Amagansett, which prompted organized vocal opposition, will not proceed. Instead, 19 acres of the more-than-23-acre parcel along the Montauk Highway at the eastern edge of the hamlet is to be preserved.

The East Hampton Town Board is expected to schedule an April 17 hearing on the $10.1 million purchase using money from the community preservation fund.

‘It’s very exciting,” Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said yesterday. “This is the kind of land preservation effort that the community preservation fund was designed for. If we can preserve that for agriculture, I think that would be a terrific use.”

The land, owned by Putnam Bridge, a Connecticut firm, had been targeted for the controversial development of 79 houses and apartments for senior citizens, with the development being called 555. The property to be acquired by the town excludes 4.5 acres with frontage on Montauk Highway, just west of V&V Auto, which, Mr. Cantwell said, is zoned for affordable housing. It is one of three lots Putnam Bridge bought and was not sought by the town.

The developer paid $10.3 million in 2012 for the entire site, with the two lots the town plans to buy having cost $9.2 million.

Numerous East Hampton as well as Amagansett residents had voiced objection to the project. The increased density and use of farmland would be counter to the town’s comprehensive plan, they said, and the project did not help fill the town’s need for affordable housing. More than a thousand signed a petition in opposition.

Exactly what will take place on the property is yet to be determined. Because the town is buying it outright, rather than only acquiring the development rights, as is often done with farmland so that it remains in production, “there will be some flexibility” as to the property’s use, Mr. Cantwell said. “I think we want to keep the town’s options open for the best possible use under the C.P.F. guidelines,” he said.

“It sounds like it could be a perfect compromise position, with almost 20 acres of preserved land,” Susan Bratton, a resident of Amagansett and New York City, said yesterday. She was among outspoken opponents, citing traffic and the project’s residential density as among her concerns.

For Putnam Bridge to proceed with its plans, which were not allowed under town law, the firm had asked the previous town administration to create a new senior housing zoning district, and to rezone the property to that district. Doing so would have legalized the increased density planned.

Those opposed to the 555 development were encouraged when the Suffolk County Planning Commission voted against both zoning proposals, which made a majority-plusone vote of the town board necessary to override its rejection. That was out of the question because the two Democrats on the board at the time were unequivocally opposed.

The previous town board held hearings on the zoning changes late last year, just before a Republican majority led by former Supervisor Bill Wilkinson left office, but did not act on the requests. Instead, the majority voted at the developer’s request to hold the hearings open until this year. The current board took up the request on Feb. 6, but it got nowhere.

Mr. Cantwell said yesterday that the town purchase of the property has “personal and historic meaning for me.” He had grown up “a stone’s throw” from the site, he said, and hunted pheasant there when the open space extended from the railroad tracks all the way to Old Montauk Highway. “But I think it’s a tremendous asset to the town.”

The land contains a stable, with an apartment, and is set up as a horse farm. Mr. Cantwell said he anticipates that the board might issue a request for proposals from those interested in leasing the land for an agricultural endeavor. In addition, he said, he would hope that the land could continue to be used for events such as the annual fund-raiser held there by Soldier Ride.

Mr. Cantwell said that the town purchase would not only preserve the open space and agricultural soil, but would maintain a vista that “the public will have an opportunity to enjoy every day. It has great meaning that way,” he said.

East Hampton Town is expected to seek public comment on April 17 on a plan to buy two parcels, denoted in green above, for $10 million.The East Hampton Star