Authors Night Move Angers Committee

A proposal to hold an East Hampton Library benefit on preserved town land in Amagansett has not been warmly welcomed by some of the hamlet's representatives. David E. Rattray

Residents of Amagansett and members of its citizens advisory committee chided the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday over its June 7 vote to allow the East Hampton Library’s annual Authors Night fund-raiser and children’s fair to be held at 555 Montauk Highway, an open field the town bought using the community preservation fund in 2014. 

They also complained that they were left out of the discussion of the events, scheduled for Aug. 11 and 12, warned of nightmarish traffic on the summer weekend, and predicted property damage. Board members disagreed with these predications, as well as an accusation that a fundraiser represented misuse of CPF acquire properties

More than 2,000 people attended the 13th annual Authors Night last year in a field on Maidstone Lane in East Hampton Village, where more than 100 writers and editors signed and sold books to benefit the library. The site is unavailable this year because of its agricultural use.

At its June 5 meeting, the board discussed the library’s application, which had been vetted by a committee charged with reviewing mass-gathering permit applications. Nancy Lynn Thiele, a deputy town attorney, told the board that all necessary security and insurance documents had been provided. A public hearing was held two days later, and with no public comment the board approved the application.

On Tuesday, Amagansett residents heaped scorn on the board for approving Authors Night in their hamlet. “I wonder what magic it has,” John Broderick said of the 555 site. “It seems to have a mystical pull on the town board and other people, to lead them to do these crazy acts and tell us that it’s for our benefit, as long as the magic rituals are hidden from us. The first of these fantasy schemes was this 10,000-person, two-day rock concert. . . . The then-supervisor told me his faith in human nature would prevent the audience from rampaging through the village.

Next, Mr. Broderick said, “came the marauders who wanted to build castles. . . . Whether it looked like a giant miniature golf course didn’t matter.” Now, he continued, “another spell has been cast,” a “two-day, traffic-stopping event.” How, he asked, would an additional 1,000 cars be funneled into and out of the hamlet on an already crowded summer weekend? “Did anyone feel responsible to discuss this in public with the citizens?” he asked. The committee, he said, was shocked when Councilman David Lys, the town board’s liaison, informed them of the plan on June 11. 

Vicki Littman, a former chairwoman of the citizens committee, said her family had lived next to the 555 site since 1903. “It is extremely alarming to find out after the fact that the town board voted to approve a large fund-raising event on C.P.F. property without any community discussion or input. What is most appalling is the fact that this town board would consider using C.P.F. properties for any other intended uses than what it was purchased for,” she said.

Other speakers ridiculed the board members’ assertion that reading is a form of recreation. “Frankly, I can’t see how you can stretch the definition of recreation to include these book events,” Michael Jordan said. Everyone supports the library, he and others said, but Authors Night is inappropriate for the site. “I don’t see how this supports the purpose for which it was acquired. Next year, with legalization of recreational marijuana, maybe there should be a marijuana fair.” 

Susan Bratton complained that the permit approval “sounded like a fait accompli. We’d have liked to have had input.” Such an event “will directly impact quality of life in Amagansett on that weekend,” she said. 

Several speakers worried aloud about a precedent that could be set, and asked that the permit be rescinded pending further vetting that would include comments from Amagansett residents. 

But the board had discussed it in open session, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said. Duck Creek Farm in Springs, which was also purchased with C.P.F. money in 2006, hosts art exhibitions and other events, as does the East Hampton Historical Farm Museum, he said. “As far as C.A.C.s,” said Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, “the property was bought for the entire community. It wasn’t purchased just for Amagansett residents.” 

But Councilman Jeff Bragman had a different point of view. “The discussion we need to have and did not in front of the public was whether this was appropriate for C.P.F.,” he said. “We certainly would have been a little better informed about what you people sitting in the audience thought.” 

The C.P.F. law “has allowed some broad interpretations,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. The board looked at Authors Night and the children’s fair as a not-for-profit event for “a community organization that has a tax line within the tax bill,” calling it “a quasi-municipal use of the property.” 

“I have to respectfully disagree,” Mr. Bragman said. “I’m very afraid of this line being drawn to permit not-for-profits.”  

“While drawing a line is important,” Mr. Van Scoyoc conceded, “where we draw it needs further discussion.” 

Almost a decade ago, a two-day music festival was proposed for the 555 site but ultimately aborted. More recently, a Connecticut developer planned a market-rate condominium complex for older adults there, which was hotly debated. After that was abandoned, the town purchased the property with the intended use being passive recreation. With the exception of an annual fund-raiser for Soldier Ride, which has hosted concerts and barbecues there, the site has not been used for mass gatherings.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the town board had agreed that the use of the Amagansett property for a fund-raiser represented a misuse of C.P.F.-acquired properties. In fact, the board did not acknowledge that it was a misuse of such properties.