Over the last several months Southampton Town has spent some $2.6 million from its Community Preservation Fund coffers to preserve large portions of the low-lying waterfront in Hampton Bays, lands that will be cleared of development and restored as wetlands.
The town has purchased four properties in recent months along the western shoreline of Tiana Bay; most have long suffered regular damage from storms because of their low elevation and proximity to the bay and took especially hard hits during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. A fifth waterfront parcel is slated to be added to the acquisition tally after a public hearing next month.
The properties acquired so far have cost the town $2.6 million combined. When added to a lot bought and preserved by the town in 2004, a total of nearly 10 acres of waterfront will have been preserved, at a cost of approximately $3 million. The negotiated purchase price of the final lot, owned by Shinnecock Development Corp., has not yet been released by the town.
In the most recent purchase, completed on February 10, the town bought a 2.3-acre lot from Martin Shulman for a total sale price of $800,000. In January, the town purchased three-quarters of an acre from Michael Scopelite and John Arcara for $275,000. In December, it bought a little more than a half an acre of neighboring land for $630,000 from an LLC.
The last remaining piece to the puzzle is the 1.3 acres owned by Shinnecock Development, which will be the subject of a public hearing at Southampton Town Hall on Tuesday, March 11.
Five cottages on the combined properties will be razed. Environmental staffers for the town are analyzing the properties, some of which are rimmed by bulkheads, to determine how best to return them to natural wetlands.
The area off West Tiana Road presented a prime target for the CPF to be able to make several waterfront purchases, program manager Mary Wilson explained. “It’s an area that is somewhat underdeveloped for being waterfront,” she said of the tiny, mostly rundown cottages, that currently sit on the properties. “There are a few structures that were already in severe disrepair. They were identified by our environmental staff as an area to target and we were successful in finding willing sellers.”
All of the recent purchases have been made under new provisions added to the CPF bylaws last year that allow for the fund’s cash to be used for the purchase of land in the interest of storm impact mitigation along the coastline. The new town acquisitions will create an almost uninterrupted swath of natural wetlands along Tiana Bay.
The only development splitting the natural landscape is a single narrow lot that is home to a small motel. Two other lots are privately owned, but remain undeveloped and are mostly wetlands, and they also sit between the properties that the town has purchased.
“Those lots have great ecological value,” Southampton Town’s Chief Environmental Analyst Marty Shea said. “They are critical with regard to protection of the greater flood plain. The wetlands act like a sponge and absorb flood waters. They slow the velocity of storm surge and protect areas farther inland.”
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the town and other municipalities highlighted the need to take steps to remove structures that are chronically inundated by storm surge and augment natural features that dampen the effects of storms.
The purchase of the properties for the restoration of wetlands presents a dual benefit for the targeted area, Ms. Wilson said.
“It’s two-pronged,” she said. “It’s removing these structures and taking them out of harm’s way, and creating flood attenuation for neighboring properties,” she said. “After Sandy, we did an assessment throughout the town, looking at areas that were heavily impacted and areas that would make sense to target for wetland restoration and structure removal. This area represented the perfect situation.”