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Open Space Acquisition

Dear Editor,

An ecologically sensitive 22-acre property has received preliminary approval for a subdivision for home construction, but until the approval is made final, there is still time to save it.

The property, located at 60 Two Holes of Water Road (and runs across to Edward's Hole Road), is contained within the Community Preservation Fund List, the Suffolk County designated Pine Barrens, the South Fork Special Groundwater Protection Area, as well as being a Water Recharge Overlay District. It is classified as a Class I Wetland by Article 24 of the Environmental Conservation Law, flagged on July 27, 2005.

This classification in regard to this particular property was verified on October 10, 2005, barely one month after the initial application for the subdivision was filed in August 2005. In addition to listing the above facts, the East Hampton Environmental Planner, stated in her initial August of 2005 report a month after the application for the subdivision was filed, that because of the steep topography, "development is likely to create some storm water runoff and that . . . [there could be] . . . flooding problems on adjoining properties caused by any clearing of wooded hills." Despite all these initial findings, the planning board still filed a report that THEIR conclusion was that all issues against the continuation of the application were negative. This is incredible, on its face.

The 2005 East Hampton Comprehensive Plan clearly details the mission and goals of East Hampton, and the ecological reasons (spelled out in vivid detail by Larry Penney, Natural Resources Director) for these goals. Why were they ignored in this case. Was this merely an oversight?

The property is a quintessential example for acquisition/purchase by the Community Preservation Fund, yet it has been overlooked despite the fact that its designations and status was well documented and brought to the attention of the planning board by its own environmental planner immediately after the commencement of the application. It will be soon given final approval for a four-lot subdivision.

According to the plans filed with the town (Read: killed, chopped down). "Reforestation," or replacement of additional "accidentally" removed trees with seedlings, is laughable as a solution, especially since such accidental errors (excessive tree removal) are nearly impossible to regulate, especially in the middle of 22 acres of dense forest.

Land Preservation in Suffolk County, especially the East End, has been a paramount ecological and political issue for some time now. Property purchases are taxed, and other monies are acquired for the purchase of sensitive land, especially key watershed properties and those of aesthetic and historic value.

When an extremely sensitive property is already described in the East Hampton Town "Open Space Recommendation" as "of woodland, groundwater, recharge area, trails, SGPA, near protected open space" it is implicit upon the powers that be to adhere to and continue the protection of such an ecologically sensitive area. It would seem to be especially important to maintain beautiful and historic areas such as Chatfield's Hole and Edward's Hole, in scenic and sensitive Northwest Woods, not only for the groundwater and recharge issues, but for the protection of the various special plants as well as deer, wild turkeys, pheasants, owls, etc.

When other so designated properties have already been acquired, including those adjacent and nearby, one has to wonder why this particular piece has been permitted to proceed so far and so quickly to approval as a subdivision.

The application for subdivision of this particular property was filed with the Planning Board on 8/16/05. The planning board knew all of the pertinent facts pursuant to the planning board environmental report, prepared 9/14/05. the planning board knew, and the purchasing office knew or should have known that this application had been filed, and that time was of the essence if it were to be possible to save this property. How is it that purchasing agent, Mr. Wilson, as well as his predecessor, Job Potter, did not see the report, and "red flag" the property, make recommendations as to its acquisition?

As CPF purchasing, Scott Wilson's explanation is disingenuous, at best, that he is only in this position since 1/06, that Job Potter's files are lengthy and he still hasn't had time to examine them, and that now that the application has progressed this far the property is suddenly worth too much money to purchase, as the fund has already been used up.

Why were these applicants encouraged from the beginning, at all, for any reason by the Town Board, given the town policies in regard to preservation, etc.? Why was this application even considered? There was plenty of time at that point to plan for town acquisition of the property.

Why were efforts for acquisition not commenced immediately in September of 2005? Or, at the very time is was being purchased in a distress sale for $950,000 on August 29, 2003. It is not possible to believe that the town was unaware of this sale, as bankruptcy sales are posted for six weeks in the newspaper.

Although to peremptorily approve this application at this time would eliminate any practical alternative remedy, despite testimony and correspondence stating the pertinent dis-approvals made, preliminary approval was granted. At the worst, this matter deserves and requires further examination. There is a very small window of opportunity for remedy, before the Town of East Hampton makes a temporary judgment lapse into a permanent and deleterious tragic error.

In conclusion, an effort should be made, even at this date, to acquire the property in lieu of granting approval of its continuation. There is enough serious and pertinent information to support this. It is not a sufficient excuse to say that it is too late at this time to do so because now that the project has come this far the land has become too expensive, due to the nearly completed status of the application, to be a viable acquisition subject.

It is never too late to correct a serious error, especially one that is long overdue to be addressed, and it is certainly not too late to address this error in good time. Thanks for listening.

Editor's Note: Lynne, how can you expect the town to buy an environmentally-rich piece of virgin woodland when there are so many worthless parcels owned by Democratic campaign contributors available for sale?

August 15, 2006

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