A Sailing School & The Hedgerow People

Years ago there was a “Yacht Club” on a small parcel of land facing Mecox Bay. You had to be a member to use it. It was a tiny building, no bigger than 20’ x 30’, with a front porch. Boat equipment could be stored in it. People could sit inside, or they could sit out on the porch. There was a dock going out to the water, with sailboats tied up there. There was a flagpole with a fancy nautical flag flying from it that said MBYC (Mecox Bay Yacht Club).

Mecox Bay Lane was farmland at that time, with just one or two houses for the half-mile going down to the end where the MBYC was. There were no hedgerows. You could go down to the dead-end and you could look at this little club on the east side of the street, but it was private. You couldn’t use it. In the winter, when the pond would freeze over, I’d go down there with some of the farmer families and watch the teenagers fly along through the wind on iceboats, sometimes as fast as 40 mph. If a club member was involved, the teenage ice boaters could use the “clubhouse” as a warming room. Otherwise it was padlocked. I never had the nerve to try an iceboat, but I did take photographs of it all for stories for the paper.

Today, the club is no more, but the clubhouse itself stands, sagging in the weeds. Also still standing is the flagpole, and remnants of the dock. The rest of the property, less than a quarter acre, is tall weeds.

A man named Jeff Mansfield originally proposed the restoration of the Mecox BayYacht Club three years ago. Remembering it, I vigorously opposed it. So did a group called the Mecox Bay Civic Association, many members of which live behind hedgerows for that quarter mile down the dead-end road to the bay. Why have, once again, a private club down there that nobody but the members could use?

The Town spent much time negotiating with Mansfield about the project. In the end, they came up with a wonderful solution. Allow EVERYBODY to use it. The Town would buy the property and the warming house would be fixed up. Then the property would be leased to people who, in the summertime, wanted to run a little sailing school called the Mecox Sailing Association on behalf of the Town. Anybody 12 and up could take lessons. There’d be a modest fee. They’d get instructions on little Sunfish sailing boats—there would be a maximum of about 20 boats to use—and they’d be doing it all by appointment, keeping a clipboard to chart who would use what when. Kids would learn to sail.

The objections to this plan by those living along this road—nearly all the lots are built on and nearly all the houses are behind tall hedgerows—are that it would interrupt the peace and quiet they feel they are entitled to; it would clog the narrow road with traffic— already clogged by landscaping trucks and lawn mower trucks—and there would be all those kids out there on the bay. The Civic Association made a counter proposal—just put racks down there for kayaks and a bench to sit on. No school.

Last week, the Civic Association took legal action. The Town had ordered an 1,800 square foot (45’ by 40’) area of the old property cleared. The Civic Association filed for and got a temporary restraining order, according to their attorney. The battle lines are drawn.

In a related matter, Southampton passed a law two weeks ago that addresses the problems created when hedgerows are planted by someone just inside the border of his or her residential property. I think this is the first law that addresses the problems connected with this shrub. Until now, we’ve had laws about fences. Never hedgerows.

Where a hedgerow borders a neighbor, from now on, it needs to be cut at least once a year on the side facing the neighbor. If this doesn’t happen, fines and even jail can ensue. The owners, of course, pamper and shape the hedgerows on their sides. But they don’t care what’s on the neighbors’ side. Why should they? They don’t look at it. At the same time, the neighbors, out of respect for somebody else’s property, since the roots are on “the other side of the line,” won’t touch the hedgerows, perhaps for fear of being arrested. Or perhaps they don’t want to spend the money to fix what they don’t own or both.

As a result of this, the Village has also decreed that for a hedgerow owner to do what he is now required to do once a year, he will need the written permission of the neighbor to go do it. People don’t want anybody trespassing on their property, even if it were to make something beautiful there, without permission. These are the hedgerow people.

And so, a codicil in the new law says if the neighbor refuses the permission, the hedgerow owner is released from the clipping bondage punishments, and the neighbor cannot complain. That’s that.

The Southampton Press wrote about this last week, and accompanying the story is a photograph of Mary Kosciusko of Anns Lane in Southampton looking out across her lawn to these scraggly, tall hedgerows that put an end to her view, which her neighbor owns, and which she has complained about what they look like at her end since they haven’t been trimmed in several years.

It might have been many years ago, but at one time, from this property, there were no hedgerows and you could see out for miles to all sorts of other nifty things, perhaps even to the ocean a mile or so away. No more.

I am all in favor of diversity and things to do in the Hamptons. I am not in favor of this place slowly becoming in its entirety a wall to wall community of a fortunate few living behind hedgerows side by side with nothing going on outside for either them or anybody else. I’ve been here writing this paper a long time. It didn’t used to be heading in this direction. And I think it is the job of Town government to see to it that it gets no further. The Hamptons is not a giant rectangle of land that should have a guard, a gate and a no trespassing sign on it. It is a remarkable arrangement of bays and ponds, hills and cliffs, beaches and fields and that, together with the activities we can arrange to take place in them here and there, is what makes this place vibrant and alive.

Move forward with this project and let the kids learn how to sail. And if the Hedgerow People don’t want to watch them, well, they already can’t watch them.

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