East Hampton Town Revs Up Public Land Acquisition

To tear down Star Room eyesore and kill car wash
The site of the long-defunct Star Room nightclub in Wainscott. David E. Rattray

Hoping to turn the site of the long-defunct Star Room nightclub in Wainscott into open space or perhaps a park, the East Hampton Town Board has scheduled a hearing for next Thursday on the $2.1 million purchase of the property, just over an acre on the north side of Montauk Highway.

The Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation has offered to contribute $300,000 to the cost, with the town using the community preservation fund for the rest. 

The property had been targeted for a proposed car wash that engendered community opposition. The foundation had pointed out that the site was part of the Georgica Pond watershed. The area also had been discussed during recent public meetings on Wainscott’s future as a place that could become a natural and aesthetic gateway to the hamlet.

The proposed purchase is complicated by the fact that there is a $2.5 million mortgage lien on the site, which is owned by the estate of Isha Kaushik. It was slated for sale at auction on Monday; town officials had not learned as of press time whether the auction took place. The purchase would have to be approved by the bank holding the mortgage.

To prove serious interest in the purchase, town officials voted last week to sign a contract with Mr. Kaushik’s estate even before holding a hearing. The hearing was scheduled at the same time and will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

In an exception to a policy of requiring sellers of developed property to remove structures before land purchases go through, the town would acquire the Star Room site unchanged and bear the responsibility of taking down the buildings. 

The town board’s interest in acquiring land for open space and other community purposes has been in high gear this month, as it also voted to issue a $2 million bond to buy 12 acres at 359 Pantigo Road and scheduled or held hearings on the purchase of properties on Old Stone Highway in Springs and on West Lake Drive in Montauk.

The potential acquisition of the acreage on Pantigo Road, which is being eyed as a potential location for affordable housing and recreation, is another complex deal. The land is owned by a group of family members. One, a man in his 90s, lives in a house there and reportedly is negotiating to live in it for the remainder of his life. 

  It was set to be auctioned last week, but the auction was called off. The board had authorized Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land management and acquisition, to attend the auction and to bid up to $2 million. The money was to come from the general town budget rather than the community preservation fund in order to allow the property to be used for more than open space or passive recreation.

Another hearing next Thursday will focus on the board’s proposal to buy a .62-acre vacant lot at 20 Squaw Road at Three Mile Harbor, which is owned by Joseph Dragotta and would cost $455,000. Its former public purchase had divided neighbors and prompted a lawsuit, which has now been dismissed. Some feared that if the parcel were public, it would draw unwanted or disruptive visitors, while others supported more open space along the harbor. 

Meanwhile, after a hearing last Thursday, the town board authorized the purchase of two acres at 400 Old Stone Highway in Springs for $775,000 from Claire Nivola. It is to use the preservation fund and the land will be added to adjacent public property, extending preserved woodland and open space.

Also after a hearing last Thursday, the board voted to buy an almost half-acre parcel at 54 West Lake Drive in Montauk from Lillian Hauben and Irene Petrillo for $320,000, also using the community preservation fund.

Due to an editing error, the story above indicates that the purchase of land at 20 Squaw Road in East Hampton had been previously proposed by the town and was opposed by neighbors, prompting a lawsuit. In fact, it was the town's proposed purchase of another lot on Squaw Road, which has since gone through, that prompted some neighbors to object and one to file a lawsuit, which has been dismissed.