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Angry Words Exchanged Over East Hampton's Herrick Park

Thu, 08/03/2023 - 08:52

Expansion of uses draws a vehement protest

The Roy Mabery Memorial Basketball Courts will now be situated off Newtown Lane, as far as possible from neighboring residences.

Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Joseph Santorelli dismissed Michael Bebon’s lawsuit against East Hampton Village regarding pickleball at Herrick Park last week, but that didn’t stop Mr. Bebon and a phalanx of lawyers from showing up at Monday’s village board meeting to draw another line in the park’s sandbox.

They spoke up during a public hearing, protesting a proposed change to the village code that would “expand the definition of Herrick Park and its facilities and amend the regulations for use of Herrick Park.” Part of that expansion includes “its evolution as a cultural and recreational hub.”

“We think the ‘cultural hub’ is not part of the covenants and restrictions of Harriet Herrick’s deed, so we don’t think it’s legal,” said Mr. Bebon, whose property neighbors the park. When he asked if the village planned on having concerts in the park, he received no answer. “This is not a question-and-answer session,” said Mayor Jerry Larsen.

“You have to have some transparency to your constituents,” Mr. Bebon replied. “I don’t think you’re properly considering all the effects of what you’re doing.”

Stephen Altman, a lawyer representing Mr. Bebon, told the board that “the 2002 comprehensive plan . . . very specifically says there are only two permitted uses. If this new proposed law purports, in any way, to expand those uses, Mr. Bebon objects. That’s the top line.”

Mr. Bebon’s unsuccessful lawsuit had contended that the village planned to build pickleball courts, an ice-skating rink, and a permanent concert stage in the part, without the proper state-mandated environmental review. On Monday, though he began his comments with some compliments to board members, things quickly went south when he began speaking about a meeting with the mayor, in his house, after he complained about the lights from the tennis courts.

“You showed me a big drawing, with pickleball, a permanent concert stage, all kinds of stuff — an ice- skating rink.”

“No. Never happened,” declared Mayor Larsen.

“You’re lying,” said Mr. Bebon, pointing directly at the mayor.

“You’re lying,” said Mayor Larsen, before telling Mr. Bebon his three minutes of speaking time were up. “Send one of your lawyers up.”

“Compulsive,” said Mr. Bebon as he sat down.

In his decision, Justice Santorelli said he was satisfied that the board had complied with state laws, and noted that improvements had already been made. Further, because the board’s approval of “Phase 1A” didn’t include pickleball, a concert stage, or an ice-hockey rink, he said Mr. Bebon’s contentions were “rendered moot by the Board’s determination to only go forward with the limited rebuilding of the existing tennis courts and softball field.”

Not everyone at the meeting was unhappy with the board. Kathy Masterson, the East Hampton School District’s athletic director, came to the board’s defense: “I want to say thank you for what you’ve done in Herrick Park.” Without the park, she said, kids couldn’t have physical education classes, or recreation during lunchtime. She hoped the middle school might play football games there in the future, now that the field was of legal size.

Bradford Billet, head of the East Hampton Village Foundation, which raised over $1 million for the park improvements, said the board had brought “a lot more life back into the park.”

When the board discussed restoring the Roy Mabery Memorial Basketball Courts, Mr. Billet spoke up again. “We will raise funds to get this basketball court done. We are in full support of the project.”

The basketball courts were removed, in part, to make way for a sidewalk connecting the Reutershan parking lot to the long-term parking lot, but also to send them farther away from residences, including Mr. Bebon’s, for which he thanked the board.

The new location, between Newtown Lane and the children’s playground, is “about as far as we can get from residents,” said Marcos Baladron, the village administrator. “In the last three months, we’ve heard from an overwhelming amount of individuals who want those courts back.”

“The reason they were taken out was because they were in complete disrepair,” explained Mayor Larsen. “The family knew we were removing them,” he said, meaning the Maberys.

Sarah Amaden, a trustee, said she was glad that the restored courts would be directly across from the middle school, easing access. Mr. Baladron said he would get pricing and work on an environmental analysis of the project. He hoped the courts could be installed by the end of the year, as it’s the 50-year anniversary of their dedication to Mr. Mabery.

“The family is excited about getting this going,” he said.


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