Losing a Park: Southampton Town Trustees Bargain Half of It Away to a Neighbor

The changing park on Rose Hill Road
The changing park on Rose Hill Road, Cartoon by Dan Rattiner

In 1928, a farmer named David Halsey donated a .61 acre piece of waterfront to the Town of Southampton as a park for residents.

The park, or what is left of it, is located on the eastern side of Rose Hill Road facing out onto Mecox Bay. It used to be a rectangle. Now, without any sale of the property, it has become a flag lot about half the size it used to be. You go down a narrow driveway flanked by tall evergreens to a small patch of land about 100’ x 100’, just large enough for three boat trailers to park side-by-side, from which boats can be slid down the ramp into the water.

If you wanted to have a picnic and throw a Frisbee around where the lawn was, it’s gone. It’s now cut off by an impenetrable wall of evergreens, behind which is the circular driveway of a large and gracious private home.

As I said, no property has been sold. It’s the same half-acre on paper. But the Town Trustees signed a deal with the neighbor, Randy Frankel, that allows the property line to be moved temporarily in his favor so he can have a circular driveway. It’s on what was the park lawn.

It’s a 15-year agreement, signed, sealed and delivered after being looked over by the Town attorney. It automatically renews for an additional 15 years if each side agrees and abides by its rules. And it appears either party can only cancel it if the other doesn’t abide by these rules.

Mr. Frankel has to agree to maintain the asphalt launching ramp. He must dredge the boat ramp at least twice a year, and obtain and pay for permits to arrange that. He needs to mow and fertilize the lawn (there does not seem to be much lawn anymore) and trim the bushes, plow the snow so boat owners can still get a boat out, pay for required insurance, and comply with federal, state and local laws and regulations.

He would not be in compliance with if he abandons the property set by the boundary line agreements, or fails to comply with any of the other provisions set forth in the agreement.

As for the Town Trustees, they must agree not to take back the quarter acre they just gave up.

That this arrangement took place came up at a Town Board meeting a few weeks ago. It was signed in February. Trustee Bruce Stafford, one of those who signed off on the arrangement, declared it was a good deal. The Trustees get to not have to pay to maintain the park and the ramp. Trustee Scott Horowitz said if Mr. Frankel puts new planting even one inch across the new agreed-upon line, they could have it torn out.

The Town Board, which works in coordination with the Town Trustees, seemed amazed that the Trustees had given away half the property so they wouldn’t have to pay to take care of it. The Town said all the Trustees had to do was ask for the funding. They would have it.

A trip down to this park shows no sign on Rose Hill Road about it being a park. It isn’t even identified as a boat ramp. There used to be a sign there indicating it was for public use. Now, a small sign, like a No Parking sign, reads “No entry without a Town Boat Launch permit.” So if you just want to enjoy this waterfront park, you can’t even go down the flag lot driveway anymore without getting a ticket.

Cheers are in order for Mr. Frankel, it appears. He’s got a bigger front lawn with a turn-around now. And no noisy park-goers anywhere. Just an occasional boat launcher.

There is such a thing as property takeover by “Adverse Possession.” In the State of New York, if you flagrantly and hostilely “possess” another person’s property so he can clearly see it and he doesn’t object to it for at least 10 years, you can, under further other circumstances, claim it as your own.

It’s suspect that this agreement is for more than 10 years. I wonder if the day before the 15 years agreed upon Mr. Kaplan will announce he’s ending it because of such and such, and in its place is invoking “adverse possession.” So now he’d own it. He would no longer be obliged to take care of the remaining launch ramp on the other side anymore.

It does seem that it’s one thing to adversely possess property from your neighbor like this, but quite another to do it to a public park. Right?

Well, there’s plenty of smart corporate lawyers who might want to tackle that issue should the time ever come.

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