McMansions at Lazy Point

The East Hampton Town Trustees appear close to drastically changing the way they manage the rented sites of the old fishing cottages at Lazy Point. A proposal now under consideration would lengthen residents’ land leases from a single year at a time to 35 years. What the impact could be remains unclear.

We believe the trustees should take a step back and consider a more incremental approach.

Pressure to change the leases comes from the tenants, who can own their houses but not the land that they sit upon. Without a long-term guarantee, banks are not interested in granting mortgages there, and that is a thorn in the sides of some Lazy Point land-leasers. 

There are, however, several serious problems that might arise from getting banks involved in the ownership situation on this fragile spit of land.

First, homeowner loans secured by rented property, even with long leases, would still be difficult for lenders to justify. Worse, if banks actually did get involved, it might threaten the trustees’ long tradition of renting Lazy Point lots only to East Hampton Town residents: A foreclosure sale, for example, would by law be open to the highest bidder no matter where he or she hails from. 

A near-certain effect of longer leases would be a building boom in a place largely spared the McMansion-crazy excesses of our real estate scene. Last year, Trustee Rick Drew said that access to credit would open Lazy Point to “local people,” but while that is a nice vision, it seems a bit pie-in-the-sky to us. More likely, existing residents would be tempted to cash in as prices soared; new owners, eyeing resale values, would almost inevitably push to undertake large-scale construction or expansion projects that could alter the landscape hugely.

Expanding the scale of the existing structures would carry an additional risk, namely, from erosion, storms, and sea-level rise. Many of the Lazy Point houses are sited on precarious perches where they would not be allowed under modern regulations. 

This is a time when anyone who knows the shore understands that retreat is the only way forward, and the trustees should be looking at amortizing some of these old places out of existence — sad as that would be — rather than locking in a dangerously exposed and environmentally questionable situation.

There are still too many unknowns for the trustees to vote in favor of decades-long leases. An interim step might be to offer 5 or 10-year leases, enough to offer residents a degree of assurance and stability. Any more would bring unbearable pressure, both financial and ecological, on one of our most fragile and beautiful landscapes.