The entrance to Fort Pond House, the sole East Hampton Town-owned public access point to Fort Pond in Montauk, is blocked by a fence with a sign that says “CLOSED.” Behind are knee-high, tick-infested grasses, and the small dilapidated bungalow on the 4-acre waterfront property that the town shuttered in 2010 when it decided to sell it.
But a split vote by the Town Board last week has paved the way for this to change.
Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the Democratic minority on the board, won a victory that they have been campaigning for for years, when Republican Councilman Dominick Stanzione voted alongside them during a work session on August 13 to rescind the sale of the house. His vote was pivotal as Mr. Stanzione had previously voted with his party to place the property on the market as part of an effort to dig the town out of debt incurred under the administration of Supervisor Bill McGintee.
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, both Republicans, voted against selling the asset—and cried politics, with Ms. Quigley calling Mr. Stanzione a “turncoat” at a meeting last Thursday, August 15, from which Mr. Stanzione was absent, and Mr. Wilkinson calling the move a purely political ploy.
Ms. Quigley also noted that the property is near where a resident contracted and died from hanta virus, a rare rodent-borne disease.
Mr. Stanzione, in explaining his change of heart, said in an email this week that politics played no role in his vote. Rather, he said, in light of Mr. Wilkinson’s “outstanding fiscal record,” new facts had emerged, and the importance of neighborhood recreational facilities and natural resources are critical to the community.
The resolution pulling the property from the market also calls for the plot to be named in memory of Carol Morrison, an environmental leader, active Montauk resident and a founder of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, or CCOM, and the Third House Nature Center.
Mr. Van Scoyoc, the resolution’s sponsor, said he envisions the property to be used for a variety of community events, including meetings and fundraisers, and that a management plan will be developed.
The cottage itself will be assessed to determine if any part of it is salvageable. Left to weather for years, it has a leaky roof, mold, and is falling apart, he said. Several local groups have expressed interest in helping raise funds toward any costs involved with renovation or a new building, he said.
“It’s been a long haul to get it off the market,” he said. “It’s going to be a huge asset to the hamlet of Montauk and the town as a whole.”
The property had been listed at about $2 million, but the town bought it nearly a decade ago for about $890,000 and change, he noted.
“Just the fact that 10 years later, it’s worth twice as much is important,” he said. “We’re not making any new land here. In fact, the land is washing away.”
He said a pending lawsuit against the sale of the property will likely be moot now that the resolution officially recognizes the site as parkland.
In terms of gaining Mr. Stanzione’s swing vote, Mr. Van Scoyoc said his colleague recognized voting otherwise would probably be a liability in his upcoming reelection campaign.
Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of CCOM, said this week that his group was “heartened” by Fort Pond House’s removal from the market.
“It is truly a shame that for the last three years, vindictive politics and political cronyism have been used to disenfranchise the groups that use Fort Pond House and the residents and taxpayers of East Hampton Town,” he said.