Town to buy woodlands in Amagansett

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The East Hampton Town Board discussed three land purchases at its meeting on Friday morning, one of which was completed more than four years ago. The board is considering a joint purchase with Suffolk County of 5.8 acres of undeveloped woodlands in the Stony Hill area of northern Amagansett. The total purchase price is $2.4 million, with the town’s portion totaling $1.2 million. The cost of the purchase would be covered by the town’s Community Preservation Fund, which draws money from a 2-percent tax on real estate transactions.

Conservation advocates praised the proposed purchase as important to protecting groundwater aquifers, which are particularly deep under the Stony Hill area. Jeremy Samuelson, of the Group for the East End, called the $2.4 million cost a “fire sale price.”

Local attorney Tina Piette offered a different opinion, noting that a five-acre parcel a mile away on Neck Path recently sold for just $1.3 million. She said she was surprised at the proposed price.

Board members found out just before Friday’s hearing that their would-be partners in the deal were not ready to go to the closing table. County procedure requires any open space purchases to be approved by an environmental review committee and that the purchase must be closed within three months after the review. But the property owner, Alexander Peters, did not agree to the sale price until the three-month window had closed so the purchase has to go back through the county review process again.

The town also held a public hearing on the purchase of a small lot in downtown Montauk where the town plans to build new public bathrooms so that a popular bathing beach can remain open. The tenth of an acre lot, owned by Doreen Drohan, will be bought for $585,000, also from CPF coffers.

The Suffolk County Department of Health had threatened to force the town to withdraw lifeguards and close down swimming at the easternmost beach in downtown Montauk if public bathrooms were not provided. The town posted lifeguards at the beach four years ago after a swimmer drowned there in 2003. County health regulations say that a bathing beach must have bathrooms within 500 feet.

Councilwoman Julia Prince, a Montauk resident, said the town will look into state and county grants that could help pay for the $100,000 construction of the bathroom building, though State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele told her that CPF money could be used for the construction as well.

The board kept both public hearings open but is expected to vote on approving both land purchases early next month, once environmental assessments of the lots has been completed by the town’s planning department.

In a bit of procedural housekeeping, the town also held a public hearing on putting a property it purchased four years ago on the CPF acquisition list. The property, known as the Lester-Lebrozzi property on the corner of Cedar Street and North Main Street, is in the process of being converted into a public park and the two historical buildings on it are being restored.

The town bought the 2.8 acre lot in 2004 for $2.6 million but only recently realized that the property had never been put on the CPF acquisition list as required.

“I suppose objecting to putting this on the CPF list is a little like crying over spilled milk,” said resident John Talmage at the brief public hearing on Friday.

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