Preservation DNA

A decrepit building on Montauk Highway in Wainscott that once thumped to the beat of the Star Room nightclub was reduced to rubble and carted away earlier this month. Last week, several unused structures on the Sag Harbor waterfront were removed and the site graded smooth. Both are to become parks. 

The plan for Wainscott is a small green for residents without close access to other public spaces. In Sag Harbor, the property, which was to become a residential development, will now be joined to open space on the other side of the bridge to North Haven as the John Steinbeck Memorial Park.

Land preservation has been a prominent tenet in and around East Hampton; many open spaces were secured before the cash spigot of the community preservation fund transfer tax was turned on. Among the most hard-fought battles was the one against a plan for more than 140 houses on Barcelona Neck. A similar effort staved off 262 houses at the Grace Estate in Northwest. Later, a luxury subdivision planned for 99 acres of Montauk moorland and bluffs galvanized activists; a petition drive caught the attention of officials, and a deal to save what would become Shadmoor State Park was struck with the landowners. 

In an early, major test of the preservation fund, East Hampton Town spent millions to beat back a proposal for a big-box retail building on the corner of Pantigo and Accabonac Roads in East Hampton Village. Instead, a former Buick dealership was razed, and it became a welcoming green entry to the business district.

In these examples, opposition was substantial and included individuals who later came around to more conservationist points of view. Each purchase was at substantial cost, but each one, in retrospect, was clearly money well spent.

The lesson from the past and present victories is that the seemingly impossible can be possible. Dream big, East End. Future generations will honor your foresight.