Sagaponack Blasts Developer For ‘Shell Game’

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Sagaponack Village officials this week blasted the representatives of a developer of a oft-changing subdivision on the last undeveloped oceanfront parcel in the village, saying he was being either deliberately deceitful or grossly negligent in a presentation on the project.

“From the outset of this review process, there’s been a shadow of deception,” Mayor Donald Louchheim told a lawyer representing the owners of the 44-acre lot on Daniels Lane, one that has been the subject of a long subdivision process and years of internecine legal fights between the investors. “I don’t know if someone was deliberately being misleading, or if they were just being sloppy … but throughout this process, we have had misleading or incorrect assertions from you.”

The mayor’s harsh barb was directed at attorney David Eagan and other representatives of Sagaponack Ventures LLC, the owners of the Daniels Lane property. Mr. Louchheim said that over the last nine months, the applicants have appeared to try an “end run” around the village’s normal subdivision review process by withdrawing a four-lot layout that the board had voiced disfavor for, and presenting instead a single-lot proposal—though with the unstated but clear intention of bringing forth a further division of the property in the future.

All of it comes in the wake of another four-lot plan that the village had been on the verge of giving a stamp of approval nearly five years ago, before that plan was scrapped by disagreements between the three partners.

Mr. Eagan bristled at both the mayor’s statements and the stern manner in which they were delivered. He said that there had been no attempt to mislead or deceive the board, and that he and other representatives of the owners have only been trying to find a legal path to approval for the subdivision layout that their clients have said they want.

“It’s shocking to me to hear that,” Mr. Eagan said after Mr. Louchheim’s comments. “It’s wrong on your part to say there’s been an attempt to deceive you. I’ve never heard of an applicant being accused of this in any jurisdiction, anywhere. It’s a harsh, harsh assumption to make that I don’t think is justifiable.”

Nonetheless, the mayor and Village Attorney Anthony Tohill pointed to a laundry list of details of the application that seemed, in their eyes, to cloud the facts about what the property would someday look like if the applicants were given their way. From a “shell game” of changing proposals to photographic renderings of houses that they said vastly understated the future appearance of development, the officials said that they couldn’t help but feel the application was constantly represented in deliberately foggy detail.

Mr. Louchheim recalled the genesis of the whole review, in 2008, when the board was poised to grant approval to a plan that would have allowed three large oceanfront estates to be developed along the dunes, and a fourth lot behind the estates at the southern end of the farm field, while the rest would remain as open land in perpetuity, allowing some of the broad vista to remain. Village code requires that about 28 acres of the land remain open as agricultural lands.

That application went on the shelf before being approved, as the three owners—Marc Goldman, Michael Hirtenstein and Milton Berlinski—battled in court over the management of the joint investment.

Five years later, the application was finally withdrawn, and a new one presented to the board last year, one showing the fourth building lot at the northern end of the field along Daniels Lane—a location that would sit in the shadow of the other properties and adjacent to a popular public beach access road. The new arrangement had been part of the original discussion in 2008, Mr. Louchheim noted, and had been resoundingly rejected by the board—a stance the board reiterated when it was presented to them again last spring.

“It was exactly what we said in 2008 we didn’t want,” the mayor said.

When that proposal was withdrawn and replaced almost immediately with a new plan calling for only one house on the entire property—at the far northern corner, which is what had caused the board to balk at the larger plan—board members quickly fingered the new approach as an attempt to back into a plan that they had specifically rejected. They demanded that a plan be presented illustrating any future potential subdivision of the property, and were given the same three-oceanfront-lot plans considered all along.

The board and Mr. Tohill have reiterated throughout the review of the ostensibly single-lot proposal that, even given the entire property, they reserve the authority to reject the plan based on the potential for sight impacts of the development, both proposed and potential. In response, the mayor said, the board has been given incomplete or insufficient information about the actual size of the building being proposed, and evidence of the impact of its location that understates reality.

“We still believe, whether or not these were deliberately distorted … the representation of the visual impact is open to question,” Mr. Louchheim said of images presented by Mr. Eagan showing a rendering of a house in the field. The angle, the width of the camera’s view, even the color of the rendered house all served to lessen the apparent impact, he said.

“If you don’t like the drawing, we’ll do it a different way,” Mr. Eagan responded. “This was an honest attempt to take this and put it in perspective.”

The board told Mr. Eagan that it would like different photographic renderings, taken from a viewpoint that would more accurately represent a “naked eye” perspective of the field and the house, and that it may wish to have poles placed in the field to represent the height, breadth and depth of the house proposed.

The board will revisit in the application at its July planning meeting.

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