How best to subdivide 55 Wainscott Hollow, 40 acres of farmland south of Montauk Highway in Wainscott, was the topic at a public hearing at last Wednesday night’s East Hampton Town Planning Board meeting.
Seven lots are proposed. The property is zoned for 5-acre residential lots, but the proposal is for a cluster subdivision, which allows smaller-sized house lots to make it possible to leave more contiguous farmland.
Residents living near the property asked the board and the applicant, 55 Wainscott Hollow LLC., to consider rearranging the lots so as not to block views or make living near the new homes as congested.
But attorney Mary Jane Asato, representing the developer, said the current proposal was arrived at after much consideration of neighbors and after many suggestions by the board.
“It’s very clear tonight, as reiterated in prior meetings, this is a very difficult piece of property,” she said. “”I think the consensus, ideally, is to build. is to build absolutely nothing anywhere, near anyone. ‘Not in my backyard’ means sterilized from all development.”
The development company is owned by MSD Capital, which is a private hedge fund of Michael Dell, the chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer of Dell—the computer company he founded in 1984.
The company’s plan is to build a total of seven lots, ranging in size from a half-acre to 2.5 acres, while preserving 26 acres of farmland with prime agricultural soil in the center of the parcel. Because the land is in the town’s agricultural overlay district, the applicant must preserve 70 percent of the agricultural soil.
Lots one and two, a half-acre and 2.5-acre lot, respectively, sit on the southern corner on Wainscott Hollow Road, while lot three, just over 2 acres, sits on the opposite side of the parcel on Wainscott Hollow Road.
Lots four and five, which are 1.5 acres each, and lot six, which is 2.5 acres, would be clustered together in the northwest part of the property behind at least three existing homes on Sayres Path. The new homes would be accessed by a driveway up the side of the property from Wainscott Hollow Road.
The last lot, seven, which would be 2 acres, would also be close to Sayres Path, but on the opposite side of the property from four, five and six, sitting behind three homes with its own driveway opening onto Sayres Path.
Three homeowners who live on Sayres Path, in front of where lot seven would be built, brought posters to the public hearing, showing their ideas for the land. They argued that moving lot seven to the western side of the property and clustering it with the other three lots that border farmland would be a better solution.
“The adverse impacts to our three lots are catastrophic,” said developer Michael Frank, who is putting the finishing touches on house on Sayres Path on speculation, which abuts lot 7. “The plan only shows a 20-foot scenic buffer.”
Lot seven, the orphan lot as some call it, would dwarf the homes that surround it, according to the Sayres Path neighbors.
“I never imagined myself as being someone saying, ‘Not in my backyard.’ In this case it’s literally true,” homeowner and architect Robert Kahn said. “The house is placed in the corner of a field, standing alone, and it’s without context. The size is overwhelming. It would be a whopping 16 times bigger than our home, and that doesn’t include the pool, the pool house, the tennis court or the basement.”
But others are calling for the clustered lots, four, five and six, and their driveway to be moved because they break up contiguous farmland.
“We have a great opportunity to preserve what are existing, pristine vistas,” said attorney Chris Kelley, who represents three homeowners on Wainscott Hollow Road. “We urge you to relocate the lots as originally recommended toward the Sayres Path side, or alternatively, provide protection screening for mitigation to my clients.”
One thing is for sure: Everyone involved wants to preserve the historic farming culture that the vista at 55 Wainscott Hollow Road currently shows off. To the right of the property on the road, Peter Dankowski lives and farms the land. His family owns one of the last potato farms in Wainscott.
Mr. Frank and his neighbors on Sayres Path said moving lot seven with the others would preserve more land, while Mr. Kelley suggested breaking that cluster up and moving them toward Sayres Path would open the contiguous farm land further.
But Ms. Asato said enough has been preserved in the proposed plan, and that the applicants have done due diligence in terms of preservation. She said they have approached town officials several times, offering any part of the land or the whole piece for outright purchase, or purchase of development rights, whichever the town’s land acquisition and management department deemed more appealing, but have been turned down. The Planning Board had also sent a letter to the Town Board asking it to consider a purchase.
Ms. Asato said that since the land already was upzoned to cut density and preserve more land, and since the proposal still preserves 70 percent of the agricultural soil, the town doesn’t want to acquire the property.
According to Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and management, it was a matter of price.
“The town was of course interested, but sometimes an owner’s expectations and the town’s appraisal differ enough to make a deal untenable,” he said this week in an email. “We were grateful that they gave us the opportunity to work with them.”
He would not say how much the town appraised the property for.
With a purchase out of the picture as a possibility, Ms. Asato continues to act as the middle man between an anxious group of neighbors and a landowner who wants to get the most of his difficult property.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place and a wall, is what we’re talking about here,” she said. “Nobody is happy 100 percent and nobody gets 100 percent. We worked long and hard to come up with a plan that gives everybody something and doesn’t give everybody something.”
The Planning Board voted to keep the record open for written comment for two weeks before discussing the proposal again.