Dan Rattiner's Stories

How to End a Standoff: Man Blocks Ocean View in Sagaponack

Sagaponack, years ago, was known for its magnificent open farmland that extended for many miles along the ocean from Town Line Road to the shores of Sagg Pond. When I lived in East Hampton and had my office in Bridgehampton, I used to drive to work on a motor scooter along one of the three farm roads that went through it, Hedges, Parsonage or Daniels. Some views to the north extended to the Montauk Highway. The views to the south were breathtaking. Some days when the surf was rough, the waves would crash on the beaches and send mist over the dunes and up across the farm fields to the road. You could smell the salty air. You could breathe in the spray even all that distance away. It was a wonderful, exhilarating experience.

For that reason, more than 40 years ago when I held the first Dan’s Papers Kite Fly on the beach out here, I held it in Sagaponack, down at the end of Peter’s Pond Lane, a rutted farm road that led through a farm field to the ocean.

About 10 years into the annual event, I discovered that the last 50 yards of Peter’s Pond Lane down by the ocean had become, for that whole summer, a small pond. It was three feet deep at its deepest point. But it blocked the road and a bit of the land on both sides of it. I have photographs of people holding kites over their heads wading through that pond.

“Where did that pond come from?” I asked a local farmer.

“That’s why they call it Peter’s Pond Lane. It comes up about every 10 years. It’ll be gone by next year.”

And it was.

Really curious about this at the time, I went to Town Hall and looked at the surveys of that area. Indeed, there is a dotted outline of Peter’s Pond on the survey. Proceed at your own risk.

And herein hangs a tale.

Today, the long vistas over farm fields in Sagaponack are severely compromised. Wealthy visitors have built beautiful vacation mansions along these roads and put in hedgerows that block the views both out and in.

There are, however, several places where the vistas remain, though, and surely the most spectacular of them is a mile-long stretch of farmland, free of any second homes, that extends from Parsonage Lane, past Hedges, past Daniels and thence to the sea.

The residents of Sagaponack incorporated their village 10 years ago and passed laws to protect these few final vistas still in farmland. One can plant crops and farm the land, one can even have a farm structure on it. Other than that, though, except for a small number of homes in a corner of the property by mutual agreement, there can be nothing to block this view.

Some years ago, before Sagaponack got incorporated as a Village, a man named Marc Goldman bought 43 and a half acres of open farmland extending from Daniels Lane all the way down to the dunes. Its most westerly extremity is Peter’s Pond Lane, which, I might note, remains rutted and difficult to negotiate. As managing partner of Sagaponack Realty LLC, he paid $30 million for this open farmland. And since he would need to make an arrangement with the Town of Southampton, which at that time had jurisdiction over the property, he tried to work a deal so some houses could be built on it. In a preliminary application, the Town agreed to allow the property to be subdivided into four lots—three lots side-by-side oceanfront, each on about 5 1/2 acres, and a fourth lot, potentially for a farmhouse, on the northwest corner where Peter’s Pond Lane meets Daniels Lane. As for the rest, in 2007 he made an arrangement that granted the development rights to the Peconic Land Trust, so they could remain as farmland. The long vista from Parsonage to the ocean would be saved.

The reason Marc Goldman wanted it this way was because he had made his fortune in the dairy production and distribution business and wanted to make this property a tomato and herb farm so he could produce tomato sauce and sell it. It would be a viable business. Goldman was familiar with bottling and selling of dairy products. He could do this. Also, he would live in that farmhouse on the highway and oversee the operation.

Although he granted the rights for the farmland to the Peconic Land Trust, other parts of the bargain began to fall apart. Early on, he had sold rights to two of his future potential oceanfront buildable lots to others for $15 million each (so he now had his initial $30 million investment back) and the three together had formed Sagaponack Realty, LLC as described above. But now came the collapse of 2008. I do not know the details, but at that point there were lawsuits between the partners about their internal agreement.

Another problem was Sagaponack had incorporated. With that, the negotiations would have to continue not with Southampton Town but with Sagaponack Village.

But Sagaponack had some new laws that would impact this arrangement. One was that they would require 65% open space, not 60% as with the town. That was not that big a deal. The second problem was a big deal. Sagaponack Village had a new law about residential developments impinging on the remaining ocean views. Therefore, the farmhouse parcel on Daniel’s Lane was off the table. To allow it would block that long view. Instead, the town said they would allow a fourth parcel directly behind the most westerly of the three oceanfront parcels that the town agreed upon. Both these parcels would sit on Peter’s Pond Lane down by the ocean.

Goldman didn’t want this. In fact, by this time, he told me, he learned for the first time about the “drainage” problems with Peter’s Pond and it’s remarkable ability to occasionally come and go. Both the two westerly parcels he had proposed as building lots would probably have those “drainage” problems, according to the zoning board, and they might both be unbuildable. To discuss this further, Goldman went back to his partners—they should be equally responsible for redrawing the proposed lots to address the potential drainage problems with him. It did not get properly worked out.

Years passed during this time and Sagaponack did not hear again from Mr. Goldman. Finally, he came to them with an entirely new proposal. He wanted only one thing. His one thing would be to be allowed to build one farmhouse, about 14,000 square feet in size, on that northwestern corner of the property where Peter’s Pond Lane meets Daniels Hole Road. That was it. He could then have his working tomato sauce business free from the pond problems and have the tomato plants on the preserved acreage. When asked to include plans for the rest of the land down by the ocean, he said he had not worked that out yet. He just now wanted only to discuss that one parcel the Village had already rejected. He tried to show that one farmhouse there really didn’t block that view much. It would only block the view of someone driving east along Daniels Lane an additional 3 seconds. There was also now another house on the north side of the road there, just built, that partially blocked the view. But the Village, having rejected that once before, said no again.

With that there have been no further appearances of Mr. Goldman at Sagaponack Village Hall. But Mr. Goldman sure has been heard from.

For one, he filed a lawsuit against the Village saying his rights to build on his property were being interfered with. For another, he planted hundreds of Christmas trees on the south side of Daniels Lane, completely blocking the vistas down to the ocean. Confronted with what appears to some, including one of his partners, to be a spite project to flout the vista, Mr. Goldman explained that a tomato farm requires daily care to make the crop prosper, and if he is being prevented from building a farmhouse where he could supervise the operation (with the potential lots further down the lane being underwater at times) he could not do this. What could he plant on his land that would not require his daily attendance? Christmas trees! They are agricultural. And you can have a Christmas tree farm and run it from afar.

Mr. Goldman’s protective border plantings to the hundreds of Christmas trees are tall enough to block the vista for everyone, including Mr. Goldman and his partners. The Village brought this to the attention to the Peconic Land Trust, but the Land Trust decided that agriculture trumps vistas, so the trees could prevail.

There’s been talk that someone should go there at night and bulldoze out all the Christmas trees. Because of that talk, Mr. Goldman said he would have anyone who does that arrested for vandalism and trespassing. So for now, and this is now more than six months that they are there, the Christmas trees remain.

How can this be resolved? The Village already tried one thing. They approached Mr. Goldman and told him he could have a fourth lot down by the ocean directly behind the most EASTERLY of the three oceanfront lots, well away from Peter’s Pond Lane. Mr. Goldman was not interested.

Then, three weeks ago, a judge dismissed a lawsuit Sagaponack Ventures, LLC filed against the Village of Sagaponack. The judge wrote the Village’s decision to reject the application was “not arbitrary or capricious, was not illegal, and had a rational basis.” They are appealing.

Here’s another idea.

Allow that there be a fourth lot oceanfront. The fourth lot could be on the most easterly stretch of oceanfront, far away from Peter’s Pond Lane. Mr. Goldman would then still have two oceanfront lots, which would be different from having one on the ocean (unbuildable) and one on Daniels Lane as he had originally planned. Goldman’s second lot would be worth millions and millions of dollars more than the earlier proposed lots.

This solution works for everybody.

For the partners, they’ve each spent $15 million and will get nothing for the next 5, 10 or 50 years unless some arrangement is made. It is true that to make this plan work they will have to give up a small amount of oceanfront footage to allow for a fourth lot there. But I think the Village would allow them to keep the same acreage by extending the property further inland. It would just be a change in the shape.

For Mr. Goldman, he could live down by the ocean and run his tomato farm from down there, and, I believe, also have a farm stand up on Daniels Lane. It could work.

As for the Village, they might have to give up a few percentage points in the arrangement with the saved land, or do a workaround on it, but the property would be filled with tomatoes rather than Christmas trees. The vista would return.

I don’t think Mr. Goldman is a man who likes to be told what to do, but I think he should accept the fact that Peter’s Pond has been down there forever, and his failing to notice it before he bought it does not make everybody else responsible for his loss.

I hope Goldman and the Village both come around. I think if he presented a plan to the Village showing four oceanfront lots, this matter would be resolved.

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