In 2000, a wealthy New Yorker named Marc Goldman created a corporation to buy a 44-acre parcel of open potato farmland in Sagaponack for $30 million. The farmland is the most southerly piece of a long one-mile stretch of farmland that offers a full view all the way from Hedges Lane and across Daniels Lane to the ocean. In 2005, Goldman sold 1/3 of the corporation to EMM Group partner Michael Hirtenstein for $15 million and another 1/3 to Goldman Sachs executive Milton Berlinski for an additional $15 million. (Smart move by Mr. Goldman, who was now into this project free and clear and everything hereafter would be profit. But real estate prices were on the rise.)
Two years later, the partners presented an application to the community to put three homes on five acres on this property side by side down by the ocean, with a fourth parcel on the ocean set aside for another building. They also intended to leave the rest of the property, the remaining 27 acres, all in farmland in perpetuity. It would afford them down on the ocean an unobstructed ocean view to the south, and a farm view all the way up past Daniels Lane to Hedges Lane. It would also allow the rest of the community to enjoy the view along these lanes down to the ocean, with just a modest interruption of three houses and perhaps a barn far away. Nice.
As part of this application, they signed a conservation easement with the Peconic Land Trust assuring that the rest of the land would remain as open farmland, so long as the farmland doesn’t violate the easement’s intent of keeping the view from being obstructed. This was in late 2006.
But then Wall Street, the real estate market, Main Street and everything else crashed, and the application remained dormant. Also the three partners began fighting with one another, with lawsuits flying back and forth between them. But as the economy recovered, things came back to normal. With internal suits settled, Marc Goldman was back to the Village of Sagaponack with a new application that, some people thought, essentially acted as if nothing had gone on before in the way of developing the property. Mr. Goldman applied in August 2013 to build a single 8,600-square-foot house on a 5-acre lot facing out on Daniels Lane, which, if built, would obstruct the view between Hedges Lane and the ocean.
This was not what had been discussed earlier. Furthermore this new application made no reference to what might happen on the rest of the property, other than a planned pool and a tennis court. Village Mayor Donald Louchheim and Village Attorney Anthony Tohill felt the application didn’t accurately show what might happen to the property in the future. The Sagaponack Village Planning Board sent this application back to Mr. Goldman, with a note saying they rejected this application but would consider it further once they saw full plans for the entire parcel again.
Mr. Goldman’s follow-up to this was to plant 15,000 small three-foot-tall Christmas trees all along the side of Daniels Lane from one end of the parcel to the other which, when the trees grow, will entirely block the view from Hedges Lane to the ocean. It will also block the view from oceanfront houses going up to Hedges Lane. If you want to see these trees, just drive down Daniels Lane and there they are.
“I’ve been wanting to farm that land for quite some time,” Goldman told The New York Post.
It looks to many that this is not about Christmas trees, but about saying if I can’t have what I want, neither can you.
Apparently, he did this without consulting his partners. “I have no knowledge of it,” Hirtenstein told the Post. “I wasn’t consulted on it. I vehemently oppose what he’s done…This doesn’t look like a nursery, it looks like he wants to ruin the views for everybody.”
Sagaponack Trustee Bill Barbour had this to say to a Southampton Press reporter: “Why do people do this kind of thing? They come to this wide-open farming country, and then they just want to change it as soon as they get their piece of the pie. It’s just shameful.”
It could also result in a drop in property values, because Sagaponack is enormously rewarded with some of the highest property values on Long Island because it is the only community in the Hamptons with beautiful unobstructed views all the way down to the sea. So this could hurt everybody, and that includes Mr. Goldman.
It reminds me of a time when I was in college living in a dorm. I walked down the hallway on our floor late one Saturday night—two roommates shared each room—and I came upon a guy in his underwear, clearly drunk, standing in the hall with a can of shaving cream in one hand and the doorknob to the locked door in the other. He then began shooting shaving cream all over the door.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked
“I’m mad at my roommate,” he said.
There are several possible outcomes here to get those trees removed. One is for Sagaponack to give up. Let Goldman have his house partially blocking the view for everyone else.
Another is to have the Village come in and very publicly remove the trees. When the property was preserved as farmland the agreement included a provision that would allow the Peconic Land Trust to go on the property and remove whatever was in violation of the agreement. There is also a law on the books in Sagaponack Village prohibiting the obstruction of open public space.
Maybe it is supposed to be a real Christmas tree farm. That can be tested. Have someone unknown come in and buy the trees. If the owner won’t sell them, then it’s not a tree farm. And if they do agree to sell, the unknown person can dump the ones he’s bought along the ocean over the dune from the property to be protection from flooding in high tides for the future homeowners who might live there beachfront. It’s legal to dump organic material on the beach.
Finally, there could be what I call the “Montauk Solution.” When my dad and mom moved out here with me and my sister in the 1950s, we found as we came down the hill from Amagansett to begin the long run of the Napeague Stretch, a whole forest of dozens and dozens of giant billboards on both sides of the Montauk Highway, advertising everything from motels to restaurants to fishing boats to sailboat rentals. In 1960, East Hampton Town banned all billboards, giving billboard owners five years grace period to wind things up and get them removed.
Many of these billboard owners did remove them just before the five years were up, but some owners did not and at least 10 of the biggest of them were still up in 1970 when, one night—it was just one of those crazy things—somebody with a four-wheel-drive Jeep just recklessly drove down one side of the road and back up the other knocking everything to the ground, and then drove off. Nobody ever fessed up to who did that. But you couldn’t put those billboards back. And no one did. I’m sure there are crazy drivers to be found in Sagaponack. Maybe they would be drivers of cars who had bought open land in Sagaponack and built a house on that land expecting to be able to see the view all the way down to the dunes and the sea. You’d never know.