Village still open to purchase of White house

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The Southampton Village Board has not completely ruled out buying the historical White property from the Southampton Historical Museum.

Mayor Mark Epley and a board majority told the museum director Tom Edmonds at a meeting early last month, that the $2.995 million price tag for the White farmhouse and expected renovations approaching $1 million are too much for the village to bear in this economy. Mr. Edmonds returned to the Village Board on November 25 evening with more museum officials to ask the board to reconsider its position.

Ultimately, the board did not come any closer to buying the property, located at the corner of Main Street and Jagger Lane, but its members did agree to keep it in mind as a possibility.

Dennis Schmidt, a museum trustee and member of the White house committee, said there is more utility and value to the property that meets the eye at initial glance.

“This is a unique opportunity, and that’s our concern,” he said. He characterized the Hamptons as an area where there have been frequent missed opportunities and said 10 years from now the village will regret not purchasing the White property.

Mr. Schmidt noted that the house has been closed off for the winter, so the museum is no longer paying heating bills. “It’s essentially not costing us anything now,” he said. The cost of maintaining the house was one of the reasons museum officials had cited for their decision to put it on the market.

Mr. Schmidt was the first person of the evening to suggest that a “guardian angel” could step in to make the village’s purchase of the house possible, a theme repeated throughout the rest of the discussion. Village resident Frank Zyckowski noted that community members pulled together earlier this year to donate money to the village when the ambulance corps needed a new ambulance, and he asked the Village Board if it could get the community involved to preserve the White house.

“There are 15 billionaires who reside in this village …” Mr. Schmidt said. “It isn’t a stretch.”

If the museum had an endowment, it might have just handed the keys over to the village as no cost, Mr. Schmidt said. But the museum’s operating budget relies on fund-raisers, donations and grants, and the sale of the White property, which was donated to the museum, would provide a much needed injection of cash.

Harry Hackett Jr., co-chairman of the White house committee and a past museum board president, said the $1 million estimate for a renovation is probably high and the $2.995 million price tag on the house is based on an old assessment.

Mr. Hackett went on to cite the history of the house: “Let me tell you, the White house is super-historical,” he said, pointing out that the land was homesteaded by the Jagger family in 1651, just 11 years after Southampton was settled.

He also noted that the late Captain George White, a former village trustee and advocate, lived at the house. “He was a preservationist in the true sense of the word,” Mr. Hackett said, crediting Captain White for the village’s public beach access and lack of commercial development on the beaches.

Siamak Samii, chairman of the village Planning Commission, also urged the Village Board to pursue purchasing the White property. He said the village and the historical museum are one entity and spending the money on the property should not be seen as the money leaving the village.

Mr. Samii said Monday that he estimates renovations to meet the village’s needs would run between $700,000 and $1 million. Among other renovations, the house would need a new basement and new ground-floor framing, he said.

Mayor Epley said he was direct with Mr. Edmonds at the prior board meeting because he did not want him walking out believing the village was going to buy the White house, then missing other opportunities for the museum to sell.

The mayor also further explained his opposition to purchasing the house: It upsets him that the village has unused space in Village Hall that the Building Department could use and is spending money leasing space on Hill Street, he said. The second and third floors of Village Hall have been gutted and need to be renovated before they could be used for offices again.

Mayor Epley also noted that the village’s firehouses need attention, too. “If we’re going to invest money, I want to invest money in property we already own,” he said.

Mr. Hackett said the museum was willing to sit down and talk with the village over time to have a working relationship, with the goal being the village purchasing the property.

“I would really love to see that building in tip-top condition and utilized,” Village Board member Nancy McGann said. But she said the country is on the brink of depression, and agreed with the mayor that money should be directed toward Village Hall first.

“I have a special admiration for old homes and the Captain George White house I particularly have a passion for,” said Village Board member Paul Robinson, who pitched purchasing the White house to the rest of the board last month. He said that he will continue to push for the purchase because he wants to ensure it will be accessible to the public. “If we use it as an office, it would still be like a museum,” he said.

Though the museum officials and Mr. Robinson did not sway the Village Board into agreeing to buy the property, they did get the board’s word that the door is not closed on the prospect.

“The door is always open,” the mayor said, advising that the idea should be vetted by the Planning Commission and put before the village’s master planner, who is designing a long-term plan for the village center.

Lighting Up Main Street

The village Christmas Decorations Committee has a plan to string up 11 trees on Main Street and Jobs Lane with white LED lights to add to the village decor this holiday season.

Ms. McGann said the lights will look “very dramatic” and accent the Christmas trees that are already on display with colored lights.

Because of the poor state of the economy, Ms. McGann and other board members predicted some would frown on the village for spending money on more lights and electricity. But she said the interest in the village it sparks will justify the cost. “If there was ever a time when we needed to generate an interest in our community during the holidays, it’s now.”

Jim Frankenbach, the owner of Southampton Christmas Lights, gave the village an estimate of $2,750, or $250 each, for the lights and labor to string up the trees.

The Christmas Decorations Committee is not funded through village taxes. Rather, the committee solicits donations from village residents and businesses.

The Village Board is considering leaving the lights up year round so they can be used during the spring and summer as well to attract visitors and residents to the business district with a welcoming atmosphere. LED lights do not have filaments, so they will not burn out and may last for 20 years, Ms. McGann said.

Mayor Epley said the LEDs use 80 percent less energy than conventional bulbs, and the impact on the village electricity bill will be negligible.

Suspended

The Village Board voted at its November 25 work session to suspend a village Highway Department mechanic for 30 days without pay.

The board cited insubordination and misconduct when it suspended Michael Steward Jr. at the recommendation of the superintendent of public works, Gary Goleski.

Village Administrator James Van Nostrand said Mr. Steward had absentee problems and told off his supervisor using foul language.

The village is not pursuing any further disciplinary action, Mayor Epley said. “We’d like for him to stay, but in order for him to stay, there’s certain performance levels that he must meet,” the mayor advised.

Work Session Cancelled

The board voted to cancel its December 23 work session because of the holidays.

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