East Hampton Planners Decry Sagg Subdivision

“This is a big, if I can use the word, ugly subdivision of farmland.”
A proposal to subdivide and develop a 41-acre parcel of farmland in Sagaponack just west of East Hampton Town raised concerns from the town planning board during a recent discussion of the proposal. T.E. McMorrow

A proposed Sagaponack subdivision on the south side of Montauk Highway drew the ire of the East Hampton Town Planning Board on March 14. The conversation began when its chairman, Job Potter, said, “This is a big, if I can use the word, ugly subdivision of farmland.”

The proposed 41.3-acre subdivision calls for nine clustered house lots and a slightly under-27-acre agricultural reserve on what is now open farmland. The Sagaponack Village Board is scheduled to take up a preliminary map of the subdivision, called Meadowmere, at its meeting on Monday. Under state law, the village is required to invite East Hampton to weigh in due to the property’s proximity to the town line.

On March 16, the East Hampton Town Planning board wrote to the town board, saying it would “strongly recommend that the town board urge Sagaponack Village to use community preservation fund money to conserve the farmland, or if preservation of the entire farm were not possible,” to save as much as they could.

Kenneth Schwenk and his family own the rectangular parcel. Mr. Schwenk, who is represented by Alice Cooley of Matthews, Cooley & Kirst, has submitted a preliminary subdivision map to the Sagaponack Village Board, which is scheduled to discuss it on Monday. Neither Mr. Schwenk nor Ms. Cooley would comment Tuesday on the proposal. 

Mr. Schwenk’s property is marked by an unusual 19-foot-tall sculpture of sorts and contains a house and several small structures. If the subdivision were approved, these structures would become part of a tenth 55,000-square-foot lot. 

According to Rosemarie Cary Win- chell, the clerk-treasurer of Sagaponack Village, Mr. Schwenk’s property is the only piece of contiguous farmland on the south side of the highway on which the Town of Southampton has not bought development rights, which it has done for 17 acres on Town Line Road behind TownLine Barbecue and 88.3 acres to the west of Mr. Schwenk’s property. 

The new house lots would range from 53,000 to 56,597 square feet, clustered on the southwest corner of Mr. Schwenk’s property and about 700 feet from structures now on the highway. A new, 50-foot-wide, over-1,000-foot-long roadway would be constructed for access. 

Ms. Winchell had sent a letter about the subdivision to Carole Brennan, the East Hampton Town clerk, on Feb. 27, which was forwarded to the town board and subsequently to the planning board and Planning Department. 

According to Ms. Winchell and the planning board’s attorney, John Jilnicki, such letters, while rare, are generally innocuous, and do not usually call for a response. That will not be the case here, if the planning board’s comments at its March 14 meeting, as well as the position of the town’s Planning Department, hold any sway. 

Marguerite Wolffsohn, the town planning director, reading from a memo at March 14 meeting, said, “Every person traveling Montauk Highway to and from East Hampton passes by this farm.” She pointed out that the lots are clustered away from Montauk Highway and are located adjacent to existing residential development. “This will help minimize impacts to the rural character of the highway,” she said. However, she then turned to a point that became key for board members. “If there is a way to provide access to the new parcels while avoiding a new curb cut on Montauk Highway, we strongly recommend that the village explore this with the applicant.”

 “Bad move,” Randall Parsons, a planning board member, said about the access road. Mr. Potter added, “The road is the most offensive thing, in a way. You have that long, long stretch of undisturbed farmland, from Town Line Road to Sagg Main Street. Right in the middle of that, you’re going to have a cobblestone, paved access road.” 

“And, it is going to be right in the middle,” Ed Krug, another board member, agreed. Mr. Krug then turned the conversation to the possibility of the project’s not going forward at all. “These are prime agricultural soils. This is as good as it gets,” he said. “Once it is gone, it’s gone,” Kathleen Cunningham, another board member, said. 

Later in the meeting, Mr. Parsons suggested, at the very least, that an attempt be made to reduce the density of the proposal, to which other members agreed.

Mr. Potter said he would encourage the Village of Sagaponack and the Town of Southampton to explore the use of the community preservation fund “to protect this farmland and stop the subdivision.”

“Absolutely,” Mr. Krug said. “I agree,” Nancy Keeshan, another member of the planning board, added.

“It is kind of hard to do this, because it is not our code,” Ms. Wolffsohn said. “I think it is very hard to do this,” said Ian Calder-Piedmonte, himself a farmer and partner in Balsam Farms on Town Lane in Amagansett. “I am certainly not in favor of subdividing farm fields if we can help it, but I think the language of doing everything you can to stop the subdivision is unfair, maybe, because we don’t know their standards.”  

Mr. Potter agreed with Mr. Calder-Piedmonte, telling his fellow board members that the focus of their letter to the East Hampton Town Board should be on “conserving the farmland, as opposed to stopping the subdivision.”