555 Barn Coming Down

‘Not well-built,’ big building is bigger expense
East Hampton Town is seeking bids for the removal of a barn on a parcel of land purchased with money from the community preservation fund in 2014. David E. Rattray

A barn on East Hampton Town’s Amagansett Farm property, 19 acres of farmland purchased to save it from becoming a 79-unit luxury housing development, will be demolished, according to a town board decision last week.

The $10.1 million purchase in 2014 was made using the community preservation fund with an eye toward leasing the site to a farmer.

The site was initially developed as a horse farm by its owners at the time, the Principi family, and the barn was set up as a stable. Its second floor has a kitchen and offices and what had been intended for use as an apartment.

The building “was not a well-built building” and is in disrepair, Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, now the supervisor-elect, said Monday. A back deck and stairs that had rotted had to be removed, and there are “major cracks in the foundation,” he said.

The town had received six proposals in 2014 from people interested in the use of the land and the barn, including from a horse breeder, a farming collaborative, a grower of hydroponic greens, and a farmer of aronia berries (also known as chokeberries).

The cost of the barn’s repair and maintenance, however, proved to be an impediment, Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “That’s a big building, and it’s a big expense.” In addition, it was discovered that “the quality of the soil is poor at best. Most of the topsoil has been stripped off that land.”

Complicating matters was that questions were raised as to whether the purchase of the acreage with the barn on it was a legitimate preservation fund expenditure under the terms of the program, which is geared toward agricultural, open space, and historical preservation. The question was put to a regional preservation fund advisory opinions board, but, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, the board never issued a ruling.

Meanwhile, a complaint to the Suffolk County district attorney about the purchase of the land and potential leases prompted an inquiry. The D.A.’s office does not comment on potential or ongoing investigations, and town officials have not been notified whether the matter is still under examination.

A town board decision to issue a second call for proposals, with separate ideas sought for the use of the farmland only, or the use of both the land and the barn, was reversed after members of the public, in particular the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee, said they would rather see the site remain an open vista.

Future use of the site is likely to include facilities for passive recreation, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, such as trails and perhaps an improved path that could be safely used by people with disabilities or children learning to ride bicycles.

Removal of the barn, however, would not preclude farming there in the future, he said. “I wouldn’t rule it out, personally.” There is a bocce court on the site, he added, which could be retained.

The property was formerly referred to as the 555 site, in reference to one of the street numbers in its address, and by the name of a former owner, a Connecticut development company called Putnam Bridge.

Putnam Bridge retained a four-and-a-half-acre lot with highway frontage, adjacent in the rear to the two lots that make up the town’s 19 acres. That property, zoned for affordable housing, was then sold to the East Hampton Housing Authority, which is planning an affordable housing complex there.

The town is seeking bids on the barn demolition, at a cost not to exceed $35,000. Bids must be submitted to the Purchasing Department by Dec. 7. A pre-bid meeting and site visit, attendance at which is strongly suggested but not mandatory, will take place at the property, at 551 Montauk Highway, at 11 a.m. on Wednesday. Bid specifications are available from the purchasing office.