It was not one of the four public hearings that created the most buzz at Friday’s East Hampton Village Board meeting, but a seemingly trifling agenda item, to approve a $3,000 quote from Lawrence Indimine Consulting Corp. The board agreed to hire the company to appraise a strip of village-owned land that runs along the south side of Herrick Park, from the garages used by the Ladies Village Improvement Society, down the L.V.I.S. driveway, and to Main Street.
Michael Bebon, a village resident whose house is accessed via an easement along that driveway, wondered during the public-comment period why the board would spend money to appraise the strip unless they were considering selling it to the L.V.I.S.
“Are you going to do an appraisal with the thought of selling the garages?” Mr. Bebon asked. He brought up the fact that the L.V.I.S. had inquired about purchasing the garages from the village earlier in the year. Russell Kratoville, the executive director of the L.V.I.S., wrote in a June 2 letter to the village, “Please accept this correspondence as an official request that the East Hampton Village Board consider transferring deed of the municipal garage adjacent to Herrick Park to the Ladies’ Village Improvement Society.”
“Not at all,” said Marcos Baladron, the village administrator, who was sick but called in to the meeting over Zoom. “I want to get an appraisal and deed. I want to understand more about that property before I speak to Russell Kratoville.”
“I don’t think that’s a good explanation,” said Mr. Bebon. “Why spend money if you don’t know what you’re going to do? You’re obviously thinking about it. Are you intending to put a sidewalk on my driveway? If you guys decided to get rid of my driveway, I would go to the title company, and the title company would have to sue you — but we have enough problems together. I don’t want another problem. We don’t want our driveway moved. If you’re going to sell, we don’t have a problem with that. If your intention is to do anything else, I’m telling you we will have a problem.”
“That’s fair. Anything we do will be done in public,” said Mayor Jerry Larsen.
“So, you don’t know about anything Marcos is thinking about for my driveway?” asked Mr. Bebon.
“I do not know what Marcos is thinking about,” said Mayor Larsen.
“I would like to be on the record to say that the mayor does not know, as well, what I am thinking about right now,” said Mr. Baladron, to laughter.
Further conversations revealed that Mr. Bebon may have been on to something, however, in regard to a potential walkway.
“The biggest value that strip of land represents to the village,” Mr. Baladron told The Star in a later phone call, “is its direct access to Main Street.” He said instead of selling it outright, it was more likely that the village board would choose to give the L.V.I.S. a long-term lease with the idea that sometime in the future, if the village wanted to re-landscape it to provide a safe walkway from the park directly to Main Street, they’d be allowed to do so.
That doesn’t equate to getting rid of Mr. Bebon’s driveway, he said, but it could mean a sidewalk alongside the driveway.
Mr. Baladron said that the village leases the garage to L.V.I.S. for $10 a year. In the past, he said, the village stored police cars and lawn equipment there. “It’s probably better used by L.V.I.S.” he said. “I want the board to know what it’s worth — but does the board want to start selling public land? Probably not.”
Mr. Kratoville, during a walk on the property this week, said the garages are used by the L.V.I.S. as a “triage” area: They receive and organize donations for the L.V.I.S. thrift shops there before moving them into the adjacent sales areas. “The village garages are integral to the L.V.I.S. thrift shop,” he said. “Over $300,000 of the annual revenue earned is used for the direct support of the beautification of the Village of East Hampton.” The society maintains more than 3,500 trees, 700 memorial plaques, eight acres of land around Town Pond, and (along with the Garden Club of East Hampton) the Nature Trail on David’s Lane, in addition to championing preservation. “It effectively reduces the tax burden on the residents.”
“We have a relationship with the village,” Mr. Kratoville said, that he would like formalized.
Back at Friday’s meeting, Mr. Bebon also touched on an issue he has brought up multiple times: the lights for the recently installed Herrick Park tennis courts, a stone’s throw from the property line and village-owned strip in question. “The tennis courts light up my whole property now,” he said. “I’ve asked several times, and nothing has been done.”
Dave Collins, the superintendent of public works, said that the village, in terms of wattage, had removed 12,600 watts from the tennis courts. “Of that directly facing west, towards the Bebons’ house, that would be about 9,000 watts removed.” The kelvin, or “color temperature” of the lighting, has also been reduced from 5,000 to roughly 3,000. The poles that the lights are on have been shortened, from 45 feet to 30 feet.
“Maybe it’s the angle. They light up the whole driveway,” said Mr. Bebon. He said he had spent $20,000 to $30,000 on cryptomeria trees (Japanese cedar) but they had not helped mitigate the light issue. “I’m trying to do things on my side. We called many times over 17 years. The last administration didn’t help, either. It’s not all you.”
He invited Mr. Collins to come sit in his den one night and see for himself. “I serve good wine,” he said.
Gloria Frazee, a village resident and founding member of the ReWild Long Island East End Chapter, said the Herrick Park lighting was an issue for her, as well. “It’s killing the night sky all the way over on Sherrill Lane,” she said. Originally, she was told that the night lighting was for safety, but with the renovation, she said, she had hoped the village would reconsider. She worried that if the butterfly garden shown in an early rendering of the Herrick Park renovation plans were installed, the lighting would “negatively impact any beneficial insects.”
Mr. Baladron said that the village had looked at new lighting, but it was “extremely expensive to get it all done” with estimates at just under $2 million.
Mayor Larsen said he appreciated Ms. Frazee’s input. “We’d love to have you on the lighting committee, because you have such great ideas.”
“Not me on the committee?” asked Mr. Bebon from the audience. “I have good ideas.”