Dan Rattiner's Stories

Hedges Begone: The Remorseless Hedgeification of the Hamptons Continues

Let's declare all hedgerows to be fences, because they are.

There’s a homeowner who owns a large plot of farmland in Sagaponack who wants to build an eight-foot-tall fence around it to keep out the deer. Officials in Sag are horrified. It goes against everything they stand for, which includes long views across farmland as much as possible. They’ve imposed a moratorium until the end of this year on the building of any tall fences to give them time to sort it out.

The fact is, however, that Sagaponack and much of the rest of the Hamptons has already missed the boat. When I started Dan’s Papers in 1960, you could see across the farmland in Sagaponack from the Montauk Highway to the ocean dunes. During those years, I lived in East Hampton and had the Dan’s Papers office in Bridgehampton, and so, often, I’d go down the back road—Hedges Lane in Sagaponack—just to enjoy the wonder of it.

I’d take this journey on my Lambretta 150LI motor scooter. Wind in my hair. Ocean thundering away, sea mist rising over the dunes. A half-mile up ahead on Hedges there’d sometimes be a black lab, sitting on the white line, eyeing me. Somebody’s farm dog. He’d bark at me—a warning not to come onto his turf. But on I came. I’d arrive, then whizz past. He never touched me.

Hedges Lane was named after Ezekiel Hedges, one of the founders of Bridgehampton in 1644. Today people think it’s named Hedges because both sides of Hedges Lane are bordered by hedgerows for nearly its entire length. You could be in any exclusive resort in the world to see this. Someone wealthy spends a lot of money for five acres, and the first thing they do is put up hedgerows so nobody can see out and nobody can see in.

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I’ve seen hedgerows up to not only 8 feet, but up to 14 feet, meticulously groomed by local landscaping companies doing the bidding of the Master of the Universe. This is his patch. His world. He’s safe from the slings and arrows of neighbors or passersby. And next door, behind another gate, there is another Master of the Universe.

When our communities passed laws about the heights allowed for fences, they defined fences as barriers made of wood or stone. I think along the way, they thought of hedgerows. In the end, they decided you can’t legislate against bushes. Or can you?

I know at this point that nearly half the Hamptons is walled off with impenetrable hedgerows. The cat’s out of the bag. And maybe it’s just because I’ve seen what I saw all those years ago, when I fell in love with this place. Endless views of lakes and ponds, harbors and bays, farmland, hills and woods, where kids rode bicycles down the street. And always, the salty, raging sea nearby, often visible across the dunes.

I think there should be rules and regulations about hedgerows.

First of all, declare hedgerows to be fences, because they are. Next, grandfather in all the existing hedgerows so those who have them are allowed to continue with them. Finally, make new rules for future planned hedgerows.

Here would be the rules. No new hedgerows allowed, but if you are a billionaire and can prove it, you can get some hedgerows to give you some privacy. Consider it a perk, as you might think of a basement spa, a movie screening room, a helicopter and helicopter pad. Just show your tax return or net worth, accountant approved. Tipping point would be $2 billion.

Celebrities could also have hedgerows. Heaven knows they get bothered by people wherever they go. Hedgerows will give them a way to enjoy privacy in the Hamptons. Celebrities would need to bring into town hall their list of movies and Broadway or TV shows they’ve been in, plus their Emmys and Academy Awards. The application would be evaluated. A permit would be issued. Reviewable yearly of course.

On the other hand, the permit would just get you on the waiting list. Someone would have to die or abandon some hedgerows before you could get a permit for a new one somewhere else. It would be like getting a liver transplant. An uncommon thing, but nevertheless done.

There you have it. A simple way to stop hedgerows from growing. And charge yearly for the permit, of course.

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