The Southampton Town Board has asked the State Legislature for legislation that would allow the town to exempt certain property owners who have placed development-free easements on their properties from inclusion in special taxing districts—specifically, the erosion control districts in Sagaponack and Bridgehampton that will be tapped to fund a proposed $24 million beach rebuilding project.
Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said at a board meeting on Tuesday night that the town and organizers of the mammoth project have asked State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. to draft a bill that would exempt properties with easements that prohibit further development from the special tax.
The request comes as the town tries to find a way to free a Sagaponack farming family from the more than $60,000 a year over the 10-year life of an anticipated bond in taxes for the project—a burden the family says it simply cannot bear. The White family sold the development rights on the vast majority of their 24-acre oceanfront farm field to the town in 2005, precluding further development of the land.
The easement vastly reduces the property’s market value, but the tax structure devised to accommodate the funding of the beach rebuilding by taxing the oceanfront homeowners bases its levy on both assessed property value and linear feet of oceanfront footage. The Whites’ field—one of only two undeveloped parcels of farmland remaining behind the dunes, and the only one that is entirely protected from development—has more than 1,000 feet of oceanfront, the largest section in the district. The Whites’ anticipated $600,000 total contribution was second only to that of Ira Rennert, whose 63-acre estate is valued at more than $240 million, pushing his total contribution to the project upward of $2 million over 10 years.
The legislation also would benefit the Bridgehampton Club, a private club that owns a 12-acre oceanfront parcel, as well as a golf club and tennis facility further inland. The club gave the Peconic Land Trust an easement over its land in 1995, prohibiting residential development and limiting the extent of improvements that can be made to the current open-air clubhouse structure.
Unlike in Sagaponack, the special taxing district created to pay for the Water Mill and Bridgehampton sections of the beach rebuilding bases its tax levy solely on linear footage of oceanfront, not assessed value. The club has said it is being unfairly burdened because the stated intentions of the beach nourishment—a primary reason used to justify the expense to homeowners—is that the newly broad beach will provide insurance protection for their homes and properties, while the club has very little value or structures in need of protection.
“We are pursuing legislation through Assemblyman Thiele that would effectively exempt those properties that have easements on them—specifically the White family and Bridgehampton Associates—from further tax burdens,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “We’re confident that this will effectively address those concerns.”
The board continued a public hearing on the entire project, which would pump 2.5 million tons of sand from offshore stockpiles onto a 6 mile stretch of shoreline, doubling the width of the beach in most places and re-engineering the subsurface contour of the shoreline to create a more gradual slope so the energy of waves is dissipated gradually as they approach shore.
Consultants and town officials who have been working on the project told the board on Tuesday that they are still awaiting input from other government agencies involved in the design and permitting of the project, but that they expect to be ready to proceed in time for the board’s next meeting, on October 9. The board will then have to determine whether a more extensive state-mandated review of the project is necessary. If not, the town could approve the project on October 9 and schedule it for a vote by the 125 property owners within the two special taxing districts on whether to proceed with the work.
Just one resident spoke in opposition to the project at Tuesday’s hearing, Bridgehampton resident Jeffrey Mansfield, who has been a frequent and strident critic of the work since it was first unveiled and this week pleaded with the board to reject moving forward with “a project of this dubious nature.”
Also this week, members of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee sent a letter to the town expressing their own objections to the work.
“The Bridgehampton CAC requests that the town suspend all further action concerning the proposed Bridgehampton Beach Erosion District, including Town Board votes and referendums, until the town has hired an independent expert-consultant to advise the town as to whether the work envision[ed] by the present proposal is necessary and if so what work should be done if determined to be necessary,” the CAC said in the resolution it sent to the town. “It is the opinion of the CAC that the town must require an independent opinion before it should proceed any further.”