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Jun 22, 2018 4:33 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Officials Seek Opinion From State On Legality Of Trustees' Rose Hill Road Deal

A property owner was permitted to encroach on a Southampton Town Trustee-owned property on Rose Hill Road in exchange for agreeing to maintain a boat ramp at the location. GREG WEHNER
Jun 27, 2018 10:44 AM

Southampton Town officials are asking the state to help determine whether a deal between the Town Trustees and a homeowner on Rose Hill Road in Water Mill, which allowed him to encroach onto Trustee-owned property in exchange for maintaining it, was, in fact, legal.

Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and Town Trustee President Ed Warner Jr. sent a letter to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and State Park Commissioner Rose Harvey to seek their opinions on whether the property at 475 Rose Hill qualifies as parkland. If so, the deal with the homeowner could be considered “park alienation,” a term used to describe a municipality’s illegal abandonment of parkland.

Known as Hayground Cove, the Trustee-owned 0.61-acre property with a boat ramp on the northern edge of Mecox Bay is located near the end of Rose Hill Road. The property was recently obtained by the Trustees from Southampton Town in a land swap for a parcel near the traffic circle in Riverside, with the intent of creating a town park.

But shortly after taking it over, the Trustees entered into a maintenance agreement with the neighboring homeowner, Randy Frankel, who said he would maintain the property, including dredging sand that collects near the boat ramp at least twice a year, plowing the snow and keeping up with the landscaping.

In exchange for maintaining the property, Mr. Frankel was allowed to build part of his circular driveway on the Trustee-owned parcel.

Many residents were livid when they found out about the maintenance agreement.

Tim Maran, 77, who grew up in Water Mill, said he has spent years enjoying the parcel and using it to access Mecox Bay.

Mr. Maran said when he was a kid, he and a friend would launch their skiff at Hayground Cove and circumnavigate the bay, looking for lumber to build forts and bunkers with. More recently, Mr. Maran said, he and a number of others have used the ramp to launch ice boats when the bay freezes over in the frigid months.

On Monday, Mr. Maran said when he found out about the changes to the property, he was shocked that it could have happened.

The Trustees have argued that the arrangement was necessary because they could not afford to maintain the property or conduct the dredging of the boat ramp. If that was the case, Mr. Maran argued, the deal could have easily been avoided if the Trustees had reached out to the community for help through the Water Mill Citizens Advisory Committee.

He also noted that the community taxes itself through a parks district to take care of green areas and landmarks like the windmill on Montauk Highway, and funds from that district might have been used to maintain the Rose Hill Road property.

“We could have very easily added something to that tax in order to provide the services that the Trustees felt were necessary,” Mr. Maran said. “But they never came to anybody. They didn’t go to the CAC. They didn’t come to anybody in the community and say, ‘Look, we’re taking this over. We need some assistance—can we talk?’”

Thea Dombrowski-Fry also expressed disappointment that the Trustees allowed the deal to happen.

“You know what it’s like?” she asked. “You have to inspect every piece of property that the freeholders have on a weekly basis because we aren’t being protected.

“Our access has been narrowed on this parcel. We are the freeholders, and this is not what we are supposed to be having access to,” she added.

Once the deal became public, area residents called on the Trustees to find a way to get out of the deal. Many of the same people who were outraged conducted their own research on the property and discovered that it was given to the town in the 1940s by the Halsey family for the “people of Southampton to enjoy.”

To many, including the town supervisor, that indicated that the parcel may have been meant to be parkland, which is heavily regulated by the state.

“After public commentary and review of historic documents, concern arose on the part of both boards as to whether such exclusive use was legally permissible,” a press release from Mr. Schneiderman’s office read, referring to the maintenance deal with Mr. Frankel. “Should the state determine that the property constitutes parkland, the agreement between the town and the Trustees, as well as the agreement between the Trustees and the neighbor, could be voided.”

The press release noted that the state comptroller’s office defined “park alienation” as occurring when municipal parkland is sold, leased or discontinued for use by a municipality—actions that could be done only with approval from the state.

The term “park alienation” has its roots in the Public Trust Doctrine, which is based on 150 years of court decisions and explains when municipalities need to get approval from the state when alienating parkland, according to the release.

Even so, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said in an email on Tuesday that while the state officials might find that the land deal was inappropriate, the final decision may rest with a judge.

“While a state agency could offer an opinion … it is just that … an opinion,” Mr. Thiele said in the email. “No state agency has the authority to negate the town transaction. Only a court could do that.”

Though only a portion of the property is being used by Mr. Frankel, those who have voiced opposition to the deal have said the entire property should be available for public use.

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The concern shown by asking Thomas DiNapoli and Rose Harvey if the deal is legal would seem more genuine if it was taken before the deal was closed and the land was used by 475 Rose Hill.
By Aeshtron (413), Southampton on Jun 22, 18 5:15 PM
1 member liked this comment
Valuable lesson for the trustees.
By Fred s (3199), Southampton on Jun 22, 18 5:23 PM
This could get interesting.
By bigfresh (4595), north sea on Jun 22, 18 5:37 PM
Jay is running for office and is in for himself. The deal was done when the town gave the land over... No permits, no dec, no survey, guess what???
By knitter (1907), Southampton on Jun 22, 18 5:48 PM
If the “historic documents” indicate that the Halsey gift of this land was intended to benefit the public use, then this condition would have “run with the land” forever, and later private actions could not revoke or modify the condition.

Hopefully the state review and later action by the SHT board will set the matter right.

Great presentation by Fred Havemeyer to the Town Board recently, which just aired on Ch 22.

By PBR (4953), Southampton on Jun 22, 18 5:54 PM
Like knitter said... No Conservation Boards approvals. No DEC approvals. And a pervious asphalt service sending water run-off directly into the bay. Allowing this to bypass every regulatory agency was wrong, and ultimately the truth will come out.
By Harbor Master (114), Sag Harbor on Jun 22, 18 6:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
Like knitter said? The trustees gave it away. Explain how jay had anything to do with it.
By Fred s (3199), Southampton on Jun 22, 18 6:38 PM
Not the part about Mr. Schneiderman. But that there were no permits filed for this work. Did not in anyway want to imply judgement about him.
By Harbor Master (114), Sag Harbor on Jun 23, 18 8:09 AM
So no one in the brain trust of the Town Attorneys office reviewed this whole transaction or transfer in the first place? Any of the lawyers involved should be handing in their resignations and if they don't should be fired. This whole situation showcases a lazy and complaisant legal division. Boards take the heat while the lawyers that advise them disappear into the shadows
By clammer (23), hampton bays on Jun 22, 18 9:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
Kara Bak was the Attorney that the Trustees were saddled with for the last few years , mysteriously she has been replaced. Was she in on the deal?
By bigfresh (4595), north sea on Jun 23, 18 8:28 AM
2 members liked this comment
Our local government please also write for an opinion on Shinnecock Golf Club already being allowed to block off the road that connects Tuckahoe Road to St Andrews. ..runs along the 10th Hole ... why why why are they allowed to let it fall into decay as if we all will forget about it ..
At least National hasn't yet been allowed to permanently acquire the beach area near their entrance. ..although they seemingly control access to the Scallop Pond which is definitely public and not private
By dave h (193), calverton on Jun 22, 18 11:21 PM
1 member liked this comment
Fred, Jay and the board traded the property to the trustees...
By knitter (1907), Southampton on Jun 23, 18 12:56 AM
I know they did knitter. Perfectly legal, a sideways trade. The trustees then gave it away.
By Fred s (3199), Southampton on Jun 23, 18 6:54 AM
They're asking NOW? Horse is out of the barn dumbasses.
By clamdigger (83), Quogue on Jun 23, 18 8:30 AM
1 member liked this comment
Eventually the Dongan Patent will be null and void thanks to these idiots.
By clamdigger (83), Quogue on Jun 23, 18 8:32 AM
We pay to undo the bad deal, trustees pay politicaly. Hopefully lose their seats. Transparency is a must.
By Fred s (3199), Southampton on Jun 23, 18 8:40 AM
1 member liked this comment
Which trustee got money from Frankel to make this happen?
By wmh (8), WaterMill on Jun 23, 18 8:47 AM
which Trustee has Mecox as his area? Who has the most lines on the ballot?
By bigfresh (4595), north sea on Jun 24, 18 12:03 PM
1 member liked this comment
Good move by the Town. Sure it would have been better if it had been done in the first place, but that’s true of a lot of things. Now we should at least get an authoritative reading. It’s a lot better than Scott Horowitz and Ed Warner trying to pack the last hearing with Republican soldiers mouthing mindless support for this smelly deal. Fred Havemeyer was completely right to call them on that. Good for you, Fred.
By Turkey Bridge (1966), Quiogue on Jun 23, 18 10:48 AM
1 member liked this comment
For once, George, I concur with you 100%. And I’d love to know who Mr. Frankel buys insurance from...
By Draggerman (942), Southampton on Jun 24, 18 8:05 AM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Fred s (3199), Southampton on Jun 23, 18 12:03 PM
1 member liked this comment
I think maybe he is th reason for a lot that's is going on with the trustees
By Resident tax (184), Hampton bays ny on Jun 23, 18 1:38 PM
A new article out in the daily Tuesday should bring shed some light on this situation.
By PBR (4953), Southampton on Jun 25, 18 6:26 PM
PBR what new article are you referring to?
By longtimelocal (56), Southampton on Jun 27, 18 12:02 PM
In the daily paper whose name rhymes with Tuesday, as an “appropriate” way to ID the article.
By PBR (4953), Southampton on Jun 27, 18 6:54 PM