September 13, 2006
"What are we buying, all of Montauk?" Presiding Officer Bill Lindsay (D. Holbrook) joked. No, local Legislator Jay Schneiderman replied, as the legislature moved forward with the unanimous adoption of five resolutions culminating an acquisition effort that spans nearly a decade.
As first reported in The Independent last summer, Schneiderman sponsored a measure calling for the public purchase of what's known as the Capurso property in Montauk.
With individual parcels in the just over seven-acre site under separate names within the family, the legislature needed to pass a package of bills to move the acquisition forward. On Monday, the legislator noted that one of the resolutions needs to be re-titled and voted on again. He'll try to bring it up when the body meets next Tuesday.
Adjacent to the Montauk Downs State Park, and with state and town-owned properties nearby, the land is rife with wetlands and long believed to be a burial site for Native Americans. Ancient burial grounds are still visible through tall grass on town land abutting the site.
"Carl Fisher didn't call this road Gravesend for nothing," Lisa Grenci, chair of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee said on Friday, "It's because of the Indian graves there." Calling the property "the last of the last" Grenci said she was thrilled to learn the acquisition finally worked its way through the process.
It hasn't been a smooth ride. Back in the mid 90s the property and its potential residential development were the center of controversy. There were lawsuits and allegations of political shenanigans, not to mention a purported desecration of sacred burial grounds. In fact, in his role on the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals, Schneiderman himself was among officials named in a suit.
A 14-lot subdivision was approved and trouble began when family members Ralph, Edna and Ralph Capurso Jr., along with Jay Burke, sought a special permit to clear access to the land. Before granting the permit, the ZBA directed the applicants to conduct a thorough archeological analysis of the land.
Of the three known major burial grounds in Montauk, one is right next to the Capurso land. Town consultants opined the cemetery's boundaries extended into Capurso land. Archeologists Janie Rees-Miller and Robert Miller suggested the property hosts graves dating as far back as the 1650s.
Then-Supervisor Cathy Lester sought to acquire the land, but an offer was rejected. In a combined purchase with the county, East Hampton Town and Suffolk will share a $4.42 million cost. A last lot of the 14 is still in negotiations.
In a release last week, Schneiderman said, "This acquisition closes what has been a very rocky chapter in the history of these parcels. The preservation of the Capurso property will ensure that one of Montauk's and Suffolk County's most archeologically and ecologically sensitive sites, a site that is of significant cultural importance to members of the Montaukett Indian Tribe, remains in pristine condition for the benefit of future generations." Schneiderman lauded colleagues on the legislature for supporting his bills.