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Dec 18, 2017 3:44 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Village Preservation Society Celebrates Its 35th Anniversary

Kathleen Cunningham, Polly Bruckmann, John McGuirk and Joan Osborne, from left, of the East Hampton Village Preservation Society. JON WINKLER
Dec 19, 2017 11:09 AM

In 1982, the historic Gardiner Brown House at 95 Main Street was scheduled for demolition to make room for a parking lot. At the same time, the Ladies Village Improvement Society was looking for its own base of operations. In an effort of community outreach, a group of residents came together to protect the historic aesthetic of the village.

Thirty-five years later, those residents, who formed the Village Preservation Society of East Hampton, have continued to excel at their mission to protect the historic structures, neighborhood character and quality of life in East Hampton Village.

The year that is about to end marks the 35th anniversary of the Village Preservation Society, which has come a long way from brokering the deal allowing the Gardiner Brown House to become the LVIS headquarters.

After its inception, the privately funded Preservation Society—now 400 members strong—also helped make it possible to transfer the ownership of the private residence of Reverend Lyman Beecher, the fourth minister of the First Presbyterian Church of East Hampton, in the early 1980s so that it could go on to become the current East Hampton Village Hall on Main Street.

Along with Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., the society also raised $150,000 to renovate and restore the historic Gardiner Windmill in 1994. It also answered a request by the East Hampton Historical Society to contribute $14,000 to restoration of the Town House next to the Clinton Academy in 1999, donated $5,000 to the North End Cemetery Association in 2011 to refurbish historic headstones, and awarded a $6,000 grant in 2017 to the Friends of Georgica Pond to help fund research on pollutants that hurt Georgica Pond.

“We’re not looking to sit on a big bank account and just decide what to do,” Kathleen Cunningham, executive director of the Preservation Society, explained earlier this year. “We are more active in preserving these historic structures, which we’ve been very successful in doing over the last 35 years.”

The society has also influenced actions and organizations that enhance local residents’ quality of life. After surveys in 1997 and 2000 both demonstrated that better access to quality health care was sorely needed, the organization spearheaded the creation of the East Hampton Healthcare Foundation and the purchase of the Southampton Hospital Lab East property on Pantigo Road.

In 2014, the society raised and donated $100,000 to the village to support its efforts in a deer spaying program. And to this day it has kept an eye on development in East Hampton Village, trying to ensure that new homes aren’t built too large or in a style not in keeping with village neighborhoods.

“The village is pretty well built out,” said Joan Osborne, a trustee. “We noticed that people want to have not only their family but additional family members join them—they want to make houses bigger. We’re concerned about how that looks and how it affects the village.”

“You can’t rip the homes down—you have to keep them in character of what they are now and what they were,” added John McGuirk, a fellow trustee of the Preservation Society.

Looking forward, the organization plans to focus on traffic, including ride-sharing and airport noise, short-term rentals, deer control, water quality, zoning density and growth, and the village’s Comprehensive Plan, which its website says is due for an update.

“People care about something, and the Village Preservation Society cares deeply about the village,” Ms. Cunningham summarized. “Without diligent monitoring, you lose your character. It takes a diligence and commitment to your community, and it’s a privilege for me to work with this group, because that’s what they care about.”

She added, “They want to make a difference.”

Those who are interested in learning more about the Preservation Society, or joining or donating to the organization, can call 631-324-3524, or visit villagepreservationsociety.org.

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