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Mar 12, 2019 10:05 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Ten-Year Legal War Over Oceanfront Development In Sagaponack May Finally Be Settled

Attorney Brian Doyle presented the Sagaponack Village Board with a new subdivision plan for 43 acres of oceanfront land that is nearly identical to the one the board approved more than a decade ago. MICHAEL WRIGHT
Mar 12, 2019 1:06 PM

After a dozen years and a half dozen lawsuits, the owners of one of the last undeveloped, and most valuable, parcels of oceanfront land in Sagaponack may have finally put their differences to rest and settled on … exactly what they started with.

A settlement agreement involving at least two of the three warring owners of the 43.5 acres of land that lie immediately east of Peters Pond Lane seems to finally set aside years of legal jousting over the control of the development plans and how the four housing lots that they intend to carve out of the land will be arranged.

The subdivision plan presented to the Sagaponack Village Board this week by an attorney representing one of the owners, Milton Berlinski, essentially mirrors the one the village gave a nod of approval to back in early 2008. The attorney, Brian Doyle, said that a settlement agreement between Mr. Berlinski and the original partner in the property, Marc Goldman, allows the application to the village to proceed as presented.

The four houses would be arranged along the southern end of the property, with three of the lots looking out to the ocean and a fourth one set back one row, behind the westernmost of the three oceanfront lots. Two of the building lots will be just over 5 acres, and two will be a little less than 4 acres.

Most of the rest of the property has already been put under an agricultural easement granted by Mr. Goldman to the Peconic Land Trust in 2007, as a way of taking the acreage off the tax rolls.

Mr. Goldman purchased the swath of land, the last from which a motorist driving along inland roads can catch a glimpse of the dunes and ocean, in 2000 for $30 million. In 2005, he made his money back when he sold Mr. Berlinski and Michael Hirtenstein the rights to two of the future building lots for $15 million each.

In 2008, the group brought the first iteration of a subdivision plan to the village, and after some tinkering with the arrangements, the village gave the four-lot proposal the green light to proceed.

But, shortly thereafter, Mr. Goldman balked, and in-fighting among the partners over the arrangement of the parcels bogged down the development plans.

While the partners fought through multiple suits among themselves, Mr. Goldman brought a series of unusual development proposals to the village in failed attempts to win the right to put the fourth building lot at the far northwestern corner of the property, on Daniels Lane, rather than behind the other lots nearer the sea. His plans were rejected.

He sued the village at least three times, and he planted row upon row of Christmas trees in the agricultural easement—a move seen as a spiteful stick in the eye to village officials, who had said the north corner of the lot should not be developed so as not to interrupt the scenic vistas across the open field, something the trees accomplished.

Two of those suits, which are still pending, are to be withdrawn as part of the settlement Mr. Doyle presented to the village this week.

Last year, representatives of Mr. Berlinski and Mr. Hirtenstein had brought a new plan, similar to the one presented this week, to the board—which sparked more legal fighting among the three partners about who had the power to advance a subdivision plan to the village.

Sagaponack Mayor Donald Louchheim remained skeptical about a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

“The board would be delighted to get this off the table after 12 years, in a form that is really not much different from what the board approved 11 years ago,” the mayor said at Monday’s planning work session at Sagapoanck Village Hall. “But every time this seems to be near agreement … one of the parties—usually Mr. Goldman—backs out.”

He noted that there was nobody in attendance at the meeting representing Mr. Goldman, as there has been—often with Mr. Goldman himself—at every previous discussion of the project over the years.

Mr. Doyle noted that Mr. Goldman had signed the settlement agreement and that backing out of it could carry significant legal consequences. “I think Mr. Goldman signed the settlement agreement because he thinks it’s in his best interests,” Mr. Doyle said.

The board said that if the agreement is finally going to hold and allow the project to advance as presented on Monday, the owners’ representatives will have to file a new application and begin the process over again.

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