Dan Rattiner's Stories

5 Projects: Civic Works in the Hamptons

This newspaper has been closely following five separate proposed public projects that will, in the upcoming years, change the future of this community. All are important, and to the limited extent we can, we are glad to put in our two cents. The Hamptons has gone, during the last half-century, from a community of farmland extending about as far as the eye can see to a community largely of grand private homes surrounded by hedgerows behind which, on occasion, you can hear the thock of a tennis ball being hit. What happens in the public sector is more important than ever.

BRIDGEHAMPTON’S CENTER OF TOWN
Five roads come together at the Founder’s Memorial monument in the center of Bridgehampton. For the last half-century, the properties on these corners were in disrepair and the hamlet of Bridgehampton looked simply terrible. Now, all but one are either fully beautifully restored or almost so. And the chances are that with the proper decision made for the last of them, Bridgehampton’s center of town will be simply stunning going forward, through the next half-century and beyond. All that remains is to put the telephone and electric wires underground.

The property currently at risk is the northwest corner by the monument—until a month ago an empty lot, before that a dilapidated Beverage Barn store, before that a smelly gas station and before that, until just before the start of World War II 70 years ago, an important Revolutionary War tavern used by both the Tories and the rebels. That had stood for 200 years.

This newspaper advocated that this tavern be restored on this site. It would look out beyond the monument to Greek Revival restorations on the northeast and southeast corners. We thought this a good idea.

But things have moved fast on this site, beginning in the middle of September. The property owners are now in the process of building a two-story commercial building there. They have all the permits. But they can’t rent the property to only one tenant. The law
says no individual retail store can exceed 5,000 square feet unless they receive a special exemption permit, and this project is about 9,000 square feet. So CVS, which has signed a lease for both floors, filed for an exemption in July.

Citizens have protested against CVS. There is inadequate parking for a big store, they say. Having a large chain store does nothing to give Bridgehampton a hometown feel, and the town has taken notice.

Three weeks ago the Southampton Town Planning Board voted to require an environmental impact study for the CVS. The result will be at the least a further delay for CVS, and at best perhaps the withdrawal of their application.

Nevertheless, I think the old tavern idea is not going to happen. I can remember only one occasion where an entire expensive building, after it was built, was torn back down. That happened when I first started this newspaper, in 1960, all these years ago. It involved the building of a marina and coffee shop on the grand lawn of what is now the Montauk Club on East Lake Drive in Montauk, right at the edge of Lake Montauk. The owner said he’d build it there without a permit and he did that.

Two years later, after some haggling, the town came in and knocked it down for him. End of that story.

The silver lining here is that the building under construction in Bridgehampton is in keeping with the other structures on that corner. I might have had something to do with it.

When developer Lenny Ackerman bought that property 8 years ago and said he wanted to put up a building there, I called him up and told him that if he did that, I think it would be approved if the design of it was in the same Greek Revival style as the buildings across the way that it faces. It would create unity. Lenny did that. And they did approve it. But then he chose not to build it until he got a tenant, leaving it for a long time as a vacant lot, but with a sign on it showing the Greek Revival building that would be there. And after that, he sold the controlling interest in the property to a New York City developer that is now building it to those approved specifications obtained by Lenny, hoping that one way or another in the battle between the town and CVS, they will muddle through.

BRIDGE BEACH
Nearly two decades ago, prominent Sag Harbor landscape architect Ed Hollander noticed that if you walk along the harbor front and turn left to go under the front edge of the abutment that leaps up to become the bridge to North Haven, you come to this 300-foot-long arc of a beautiful sandy beach. It is a desolate area with several abandoned buildings and docks amidst some weeds. One of these buildings had been the ticket office and waiting room for the ferry, no longer in existence, that you used to have to take to get to North Haven.

Ownership of some of this land seemed to be in dispute, but other parts of it were town owned, though inaccessible except by walking under the bridge. Ten years later, all that has cleared up, and a project that would result in a new and beautiful public beach from which you can watch the sun set could soon become a reality.

Last week, Mayor Gilbride confirmed that he hopes this project could be open to the public for next summer season. Also, Ed Hollander, in an interview with the Sag Harbor Express, said he thought interested citizens could facilitate that happening by donating unused building material, as has been done with other civic projects.

By the way, also along the bridge abutment during the past 10 years, but on the other side, the village has built a small 150-foot artificial beach. It is next to Long Wharf at the other end. Now you’ll just keep going around the abutment and there will be a second beach on the other side, just take your pick. Wow.

Bridge Lane Bridge Rehabilitation Proposed Bridge with galvanized guardrails
Bridge Lane Bridge Rehabilitation Proposed Bridge with galvanized guardrails, Photo: Courtesy LK McClean Associates

SAGG BRIDGE
The Village of Sagaponack and the Town of Southampton are now in negotiations about transferring the Town’s half of Sagg Bridge to Sagaponack, so one government entity administers it. Until now, they’ve been squabbling about what ought to be done with it. One side of it comes down in Sagaponack, the other in the Town of Southampton.

This is another good thing. Southampton, which until now has done the full maintenance of the bridge, wanted to tear it down and build a new one that was bigger, stronger and very different. Sagaponack wanted to keep it as it is—and rebuild it, if that is necessary, so it remains as it has been, with local men fishing off it, with cars having to honk, drive slow and pass one another with care on it, with a walkway so runners could enjoy it…all of which would be gone forever if this bridge were built bigger and stronger.

Over the centuries, this bridge has been rebuilt many times, but always as a humble, narrow structure. It’s not like there’s more truck and car traffic than before. With Sagaponack a second-home community of millionaires and billionaires (almost all behind hedgerows), this has the potential to be a great outcome.

Though I am thinking that when the Bridge to North Haven had to be replaced 20 years ago, they tore out the old design, dating from the early 1930s, and they replaced it with a newer design, different than but in the style of the old. There could be a design opportunity here at Sagg, in my view.

NORTH MAIN STREET FARMSTEAD
Three weeks ago, East Hampton Town, in a driving rain, held the grand opening of their new farm museum at the corner of Cedar Street and North Main. Few came. But there it is.

This is a Cape Cod–style farmhouse and barn on 2 acres from the 19th century. It was occupied by the Lester family for nearly 100 years. In the last half of the 20th century, it was all overgrown with thickets, bushes and vines. I used to go by it every day in my car, since I live just up the street. Still do. Around 1990, a very old man appeared out by the sidewalk of that property and he proceeded to build, very slowly, a three-foot-high plank picket fence along the sidewalk border. I was told he lived there alone. He was a nice guy. And he was about 90. I hadn’t even known there was a farmhouse in there.

After building it, all down the property line on North Main and then up on the property line on Cedar—a distance of about 200 yards—he commenced to paint this plank picket fence white. He started at one end, got about halfway down the North Main side, and then, that was it. It was half white to there, then plain wood after that, all the rest of the way around.

I didn’t know what to make of it, but I feared the worst. God speed, I thought, nice man I do not know.

About 10 years ago, I was told the Town had bought the property and would make a farmhouse park out of it. During those next 10 years, the houses and barns got cleaned out, the brush and bushes were cleared and the trees were felled, the half-finished fence removed, the barn repaired and the house re-shingled. The snails-pace speed at which this was being done—over the 10 years the re-shingling on one side came around to meet the re-shingling on the other side, which was a much darker color—made me think that the townspeople, after work and on weekends, were chipping in as volunteers to do this work with donated supplies.

It was either that or the slowest building contractor who ever lived. I don’t want to ask.

Anyway, it is done. And it is quite beautiful. Gardens will now go in. A man has been there selling vegetables. And I expect there will be people dressed up during the summers in there in clothing that is from the 19th century to show you around. I hope so.

Southampton Arts Center
Southampton Arts Center. Photo credit: Brendan J. O’Reilly

SOUTHAMPTON ARTS CENTER
Two years ago, the Parrish Art Museum moved out of their longtime home (since 1897) on Jobs Lane. What would become of these buildings?

The answer is that they are slowly becoming a major public cultural center for events, entertainments, gallery showings, film screenings, concerts and community events. All are being done on a modest scale, but this past winter, before the Southampton Arts Center’s second summer, the Center’s board hired a full-time director to run the place, and this coming year I expect there will be even more there.

Now there is talk about putting a boardwalk along Lake Agawam on its northern border where it meets Agawam Park. Both these projects are in the capable hands the Southampton Village Board, headed up by longtime Mayor Mark Epley, who in his nearly 10 years as Mayor has shown that he has found his calling. Hats off to him.

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