Randy Lerner is no stranger to controversy in East Hampton, and he’s knee-deep in it again.
Neighbors of a 5.9-acre parcel he controls in Stony Hill, Amagansett — land with strict easements attached to it — say it has allegedly been illegally cleared of mature trees worth perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to the Peconic Land Trust.
The easement on the property has been in place since 1995, with no violations in its history. The defendants are the third owners of the property under the easement, with 341 Town Lane LLC acquired the property on July 31.
“Within days of acquiring the title to the property, the new owners had a tree removal company cut down and stack throughout the easement property approximately 75 to 125 trees, many of them mature, without notice to the Peconic Land Trust, which is required by the conservation easement document,” the trust said in an August 23 press release. It said the native trees included American beech, sassafras, American holly, and white oak, and that the trust was seeking restoration of the trees as well as a stop to any further clearing.
“We want it to be restored,” said John v.H. Halsey, president of the Peconic Land Trust. “The reality is it’s very hard to restore.”
The Peconic Land Trust obtained a temporary restraining order against 341 Town Lane LLC and its principal owner, Lerner, for the violation. The order was issued by acting Justice Joseph Farneti in Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead Thursday, August 8.
Tiffany Scarlato and Denise Schoen, two local attorneys said to represent Lerner, did not return calls for comment by press time. Halsey said Lerner recently purchased a house adjacent to the area in question that contains pastures. The seller placed the easement on a portion of the property specifically so it wouldn’t be cleared. Halsey said the new owner could have cleared the trees said to be “dead, decayed, or diseased.” The trust expects to be able to glean as much information as it can between now and September 4, when the case goes before the judge again.
“Sometimes these easements are hard to enforce, but it is in everyone’s best interest,” Halsey said, adding he did not estimate the restoration cost, although it will be significant. “Not all the trees were mature.”
A decade ago, Lerner came under fire after the East Hampton Star claimed he used a personal relationship with then-town building inspector Don Sharkey to obtain certificates of occupancy for buildings he owned without going through proper legal review. The matter came to light when Sharkey died.
The focus of the newspaper article was whether a new hotel, The Reform Club, and restaurant, Mezzaluna AMG, was pushed through by Sharkey, 46, who died at his Amagansett home of “an unknown cause” just before the story broke in 2009. He was never given a chance to respond to the allegations. It was later ascertained the popular building inspector had a family history of heart disease.
No charges were filed against Sharkey or Lerner.
Lerner was also a lightning rod for criticism when he owned the Cleveland Browns NFL team, which he inherited. He sold the Browns in 2012.