Boys Harbor purchase may hang in CPF balance

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Often during recent debates about the appropriate uses of Community Preservation Fund money, East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee has held up his town’s planned purchase of the 26-acre Boys Harbor property as a litmus test. Depending on what it’s decided CPF money can be used for, Mr. McGintee has said, the town may or may not be able to go ahead with the purchase.

But as new guidelines are drafted for the use of CPF money, the plans for Boys Harbor may be left out in the financial cold. If improvements like bathrooms and a parking lot are determined not to fall under the CPF umbrella, the financially strapped town may not be able to move on the purchase, Mr. McGintee said.

“If we can’t count on CPF monies for managing that property, I don’t know that we can go ahead with it,” Mr. McGintee said in an interview last month. “If the property is to be preserved as a park, then there has to be some money spent to get it in the appropriate condition.”

The purchase of the former summer camp from the Duke family has been on the town’s docket for years, initially as a key parcel to be saved from development but more recently as a topic of debate about the uses of the land, should it be purchased by the town.

The town agreed more than a year ago to purchase the land with Suffolk County for approximately $6.5 million, splitting the cost evenly, the town paying its share using CPF money. The plans called for the property to be preserved not as wooded open-space but as an “active recreation” park. The town and county plans included improving an existing ball field and ropes course and creating a picnic area out of an existing clearing. The improvements also called for the town to build public bathrooms on the property, provide an area for parking and renovate at least one of the buildings on the site.

During a public hearing last fall, Mr. McGintee defended criticisms of the park plan as too costly for taxpayers, saying that the anticipated $1.2 million in improvements that would be needed and the annual operating costs would be covered by CPF.

At least one CPF legislation author has called such expenses beyond the intentions behind the “management and stewardship” clause in the CPF statute. State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., one of the original proponents of the CPF, called such use of CPF money as a subsidy for the town’s parks department.

East Hampton Town Councilman Pete Hammerle has said he would like to see the town purchase the Boys Harbor property as passive use open space, as neighbors have demanded, minimizing the costs of improvements and wholly eliminating future operating costs.

“If we just leave it the way it is, it won’t cost us a dime,” Mr. Hammerle said recently. “I don’t know why it has to be this big expensive thing.”

Councilman Brad Loewen disagreed. The property is already disturbed, he noted, and the CPF statute provides that active recreation parks are a suitable use for funding. Mr. Loewen said that he feels at least substantial portions of the upkeep for the property should fall under the management and stewardship guidelines in the CPF but that the town may have to tailor some of its plans if it can’t draw from the fund.

“This is an opportunity to provide a minimal amount of recreation opportunity for our residents,” Mr. Loewen said. “I don’t see what’s wrong with having maybe a couple of horseshoe pits and a real basic softball diamond. It’s what this property is used for now and always has been. It’s not ecologically sensitive space, it’s a children’s camp.”

Mr. McGintee noted this week that it may not be possible to buy it as a passive park, because the county’s agreement to help buy the property, at least as approved, is contingent upon it being an active park.

Mr. McGintee said he has not discussed the possibility of purchasing the property as passive open space with county preservation managers but that, even if the county were willing to pursue a more passive purchase, it would likely require the county to start its own lengthy approval process all over again.

“It was understood this would be purchased for recreation,” Mr. McGintee said. “We have a lot of other undisturbed parcels and there have to be places of assembly. I’m not excluding it but my preference would be for that kind of park in the area where people can come and picnic.”

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