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Private Trees on Public Land

Wed, 09/28/2022 - 18:11


One can’t fault the owner of a house overlooking a parking lot for asking, but it was a serious mistake for East Hampton Village Mayor Jerry Larsen to hop aboard a concept for trees to be placed along the perimeter of a Main Beach lot at private expense. The request by a Lockwood Lane homeowner to have a row of evergreens planted on public land solely to improve his view — and property value — should never have reached the level of discussion by the East Hampton Village Board. Instead, it should have been rejected from the start as an improper demand on village property.

The trees, red cedars, would be sited on a strip of grass at the west end of the lot, according to an illustration prepared for a recent village board meeting. They would interrupt the sightline between the landowner’s windows and the parking lot. Another line of new trees was depicted along the edge of Hook Pond, for no obvious reason whatsoever. Dave Kuhl, who bought the Lockwood Lane house in 2017 for about $5 million, told the village that he would pay out of pocket for the cedars and an irrigation system to help them become established. This might sound attractive, but is utterly beside the point.

Complicating the plan, the parking lot does not butt up against Mr. Kuhl’s parcel. Rather, it is separated by a town-owned near-acre currently returning to nature that had been purchased in 2019 with money from the community preservation fund. The house at 81 Ocean Avenue was removed as a condition of the town’s $4.8 million open space purchase. The thought at the time was that the land could serve as a kind of field test for restoring wetlands and buffering the pond from contaminated ground and surface water.

The cedars would, in effect, create a barrier between the abutting parcels of public property and give the false impression that the preservation fund lot was part of the homeowner’s property.

East Hampton Village, since Mr. Larsen and his NewTown Party took over, has shifted away from the public interest in favor of accommodating individuals. An example are the tables and chairs placed on village sidewalks without going through the approval channels, another was the open arms with which the mayor welcomed a proposal to install a partially for-profit playing court in Herrick Park for a sport that few residents had yet heard of. And, perhaps oddest of all is a chrome bull that ended up facing the middle school made by an artist that a village board member had days before met at a party.

Unfortunately, discussion at the Sept. 16 meeting centered on the narrow question of what else the trees might obscure. A serene portion of Hook Pond visible to people passing by on Ocean Avenue could be blocked. That may be so, but is not the most-significant issue. Municipally owned assets are held in trust for residents and visitors, and are never to be handed over in any form for private gain.


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