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Jun 24, 2009 4:48 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Cemetery expansion continues to hit obstacles

Jun 24, 2009 4:48 PM

Since last summer, a war of words has been raging over a proposed land swap that would extend the life of Westhampton’s largest burial ground for another 35 to 40 years, according to supporters of the proposal.

In several paid advertisements appearing in The Press, the Westhampton Cemetery Association has alleged that the Southampton Town Trustees have reneged on a gentleman’s agreement that would have required them to swap land that they own for a similarly sized lot that was purchased two years ago by the association. Both properties measure around 2 acres and are located near the graveyard, which is running out of space and currently has fewer than 30 burial plots remaining.

The main difference between the two lots is that the Trustees’ land runs along the northern border of the existing cemetery and overlooks Beaver Lake, while the association’s property is landlocked and located north of Lakeside Lane and, more important, across the street from the burial ground.

The denial has forced cemetery officials to investigate the possibility of using their land to accommodate the proposed expansion. But the problem, they said, is that their property cannot be developed without first securing permission from the Trustees to install an access road on another parcel that is owned by them—permission that the Trustees said would not be forthcoming due to restrictions on the land.

As a result, some of the Cemetery Association’s paid advertisements urge residents to mail donations to the “Friends of the Westhampton Cemetery,” stating that the money is needed to prevent the Town Trustees from “closing the cemetery.”

The Cemetery Association has also requested that the Trustees hold a public discussion at their August 3 meeting so they can again discuss the land swap, according to attorney Tom DeMayo, who serves as the group’s legal counsel. Cemetery officials want the Trustees to vote on whether or not they should approve or deny the land swap.

But the Trustees contend that they never officially signed off on any land swap arrangement, adding that the Cemetery Association should never have spent $200,000 to add the nearby property to its holdings without first securing written approval from the town. The Trustees are also insisting that they have been attempting to help the cemetery board investigate different options to keep the cemetery from closing once it is filled to capacity.

Town Trustee Brian Tymann described the association’s decision to buy the landlocked property as careless, stressing that group leaders should have first received written approval from his board. “If they bought the property without other approvals, it’s reckless,” Mr. Tymann said. “It’s reckless to have a conversation and then buy land.”

Gordon Werner, a member of the cemetery board and the owner of Follett and Werner Funeral Home in Westhampton Beach, said his group purchased its landlocked parcel, which is located north of Lakeside Lane and west of Station Road, only after being told by the Trustees that the land could be exchanged for a town-owned lot that borders the cemetery and Beaver Lake. At first, Mr. Werner said he was thrilled with the proposal because his association got a good price on its land. “Where in Westhampton can you buy 2 acres for $200,000?” he said.

The Town Trustees informed the Cemetery Association in February that they cannot approve the land swap, citing the need to protect Beaver Lake. As a result, the association is now seeking permission from the town to alter the zoning of its landlocked property.

But Mr. Werner admits that he has little hope of securing that access, noting that the Trustees have already told him that they will not grant his group permission to install a road. In turn, Mr. Werner said his organization has not ruled out the possibility of suing the Trustees to secure access.

Mr. Tymann said his board cannot grant the request because the land on which the access road would need to be constructed is considered scenic and environmentally sensitive and, therefore, cannot be disturbed. He added that there are numerous restrictions on the lot that forbid the cutting of trees.

“We’re not able to give them access to the landlocked parcel,” said Mr. Tymann. “It’s not even a possibility.”

He added that any attempt to sue the Trustees over the restrictions would be counterproductive. “That’s a waste of money, time and taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Tymann said. “It is unreasonable because we’re trying to help them.”

Trustee Eric Shultz, who said his board never signed off on an agreement with the Cemetery Association, said he thinks the Southampton Town Board needs to intercede. He explained that if the cemetery cannot expand and it is forced to close, the town would be responsible for its future maintenance.

“If this is not solved soon, I’m going to go to the Town Board and ask them what they’re going to do about it,” Mr. Shultz said.

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Why would the Town Trustees ever even say that they would make such a land-swap?
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Jun 25, 09 10:12 PM
“It’s reckless to have a conversation and then buy land.”

Sure is if the Trustees aren't reputable enough to be relied upon.

Yeah, I know -- always get it in writing!
By Frank Wheeler (1798), Northampton on Jun 26, 09 2:13 PM
Franks W says:

Yeah, I know -- always get it in writing

That is rule #1 in Real Estate. When dealing with a government entity I would go further and ask to see a resolution of some sort. I think the cemetary group jumped the gun here.
By Terry (380), Southampton on Jun 26, 09 5:04 PM
If the Trustees met with the cemetery association to discuss the land trade, where are the minutes of the meeting? Who was at the meeting and exactly what was promised? The Trustees have private meetings with others at closed meetings and make promises, like with Dockers.

I can't believe the Cemetery Association would purchase a piece of land to trade with the trustees without a verbal agreement. The people on the cemetery association board are honorable people.

By Bob Whyte (48), Hampton Bays on Jun 27, 09 6:44 AM
1 member liked this comment
Yes, Mr. Whyte, and it's very troubling to think that the Southampton Town Trustees, might be less than honorable.
By Frank Wheeler (1798), Northampton on Jun 27, 09 10:34 AM
Bob and Frank - firstly, the minutes are public record. Go check them out for yourselves. I think you'll be surprised - I checked them and all that the Trustees said was that they would look into it and see what restrictions there were on the land. Which leads me to the real issue at hand that you're ignoring. The land that the cemetery wants was given to the Trustees to protect. What don't you understand about that? The cemetery cannot obtain and develop our parcel, plain and simple. We've offered ...more
By briantymann (27), westhampton beach on Jun 28, 09 9:49 AM
2 members liked this comment
While the minutes of Trustees meetings are public record, you should be aware that the Minutes are not necessarily accurate reflections of the meetings. The Minutes are prepared by the Trustees and approved by them at the following public meeting. The prepared Minutes therefore contain the written representation of what was said at each meeting according to HOW THE TRUSTEES which to record what took place at the meeting, not according to a court reporter's literal, word-by-word recording of what ...more
By BigChase (2), Southampton on Oct 17, 09 4:30 PM
"The cemetery cannot obtain and develop our parcel, plain and simple."

Hmmmmn!

"Our parcel?" Whose parcel, exactly? If you are a Trustee, why don't you identify yourself by name??

And if you ARE a Trustee, then by "our land," it is the Town's land, right?

And my understanding of this matter -- subject to clarification by any of the parties involved -- is that there was to be a land swap, and that there is such a mechanism in place, as well as precedent.

I ...more
By Frank Wheeler (1798), Northampton on Jun 29, 09 8:04 AM
The following are three separate web links and a portion of the related material.

http://www.cnn.com/TECH/9802/12/t_t/burial.ground/
Far beneath the busy cityscape of New York's lower Manhattan lies a centuries-old cemetery. The burial ground, discovered in 1991 by construction workers, contains more than 400 remains of what is believed to be the first group of African slaves brought to the city. It also tells a little-known story of early New York.


http://www.ibsgwatch.imagedjinn.com/learn/newyorklaw.htm
The ...more
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on Jun 29, 09 8:39 AM
1 member liked this comment
Gordon is a great guy-but he's plain wrong about this issue. The trustees have to protect this land as they agreed to when they accepted it.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jun 29, 09 9:44 AM
1 member liked this comment
Frank, you ask me to identify myself - my screen name is briantymann. With a space in between, it is Brian Tymann. I am a town Trustee.

By "our land", yes you are correct - it is land entrusted to the Town Trustees on behalf of the Freeholders and Commonality of the Town.

As I do with all people, with very limited success, I invite you to call me and meet me at the site so I can give you the full picture. 287 5717. I thank you for your interest in this matter.
By briantymann (27), westhampton beach on Jun 29, 09 1:53 PM
I thought your sign in name pretty well identified you-guess Frank needed more hel than just your name
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jun 29, 09 2:25 PM
It is stunning that Eric Shultz can say, if the problem isn't solved soon, "I'm going to go to the Town Board and ask them what they're going to do about it", considering the ardor with which the Trustees have defended their prerogatives over the centuries. Whenever the Town Board has remotely threatened to trespass on their jurisdiction, the Trustees have reacted ferociously, and rightly so. But now Mr. Shultz seems to want to have it both ways, demanding a solution from the Town Board. He is ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1868), Quiogue on Jun 30, 09 1:14 PM
2 members liked this comment
See my comment above about the difference between the recorded Minutes and what is actually said at public meetings. The Trustees control how the actual testimony at each meeting is summarized in the recorded Minutes and thus there are often large discrepencies between what is said at the meetings and what is recorded in the Minutes.

When in dispute, one should ask to review the audio tape recordings.

Often what the Trustees commit to and what the Trustees say at the public meetings ...more
By BigChase (2), Southampton on Oct 17, 09 4:36 PM
I'd still like to speak with you, Turkey Bridge. I don't think any conversation is pointless. Have you asked the two gentlemen you plan to vote for how they would handle this? My guess would be that they would see it the same way the 5 Trustees do now. Perhaps not, but I certainly wouldn't base my vote on spite or a guess - it's nto going to solve this issue. True, what was said in the past is important to some degree, but do you think our stance on not swapping the property is wrong? You seem to ...more
By briantymann (27), westhampton beach on Jun 30, 09 5:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
They (the Trustees) have usually been a reactive group only rising to action when threatened or at election time. And it is most interesting that Mr. Tymann has been chosen to defend the Trustees (who would take this issue on as the spokesperson voluntarily) when he was not there and has the LEAST intimate knowledge of the event. Who is afraid of the daylight?
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Jun 30, 09 5:47 PM
We're speaking with each other right now, Mr. Tymann. We don't need to take our conversation private, we don't have anything to hide. You say I'm dwelling on the past, but when a court has to determine the cause of an auto accident, it focuses on the past because that's when the operative event took place. It's the same thing here, since the operative event that caused the misunderstanding was in the past, that August 2006 meeting that you didn't attend because you weren't a Trustee yet. You ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1868), Quiogue on Jun 30, 09 8:37 PM
2 members liked this comment
Turkey Bridge,

the transfer of public property to an unincorporated cemetery association is not a simple matter for an oral agreement.

The requirement that agreements for the sale / transfer of real property must be in writing is founded upon the understanding that the significant rights that are being transferred should be in writing so there can be no misunderstanding or disagreement.

For the cemetery association to claim it was relying upon oral representations should ...more
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on Jun 30, 09 10:22 PM
1 member liked this comment
The contention that the property is "landlocked" is of doubtful validity.

There is the doctrine of easement by necessity which permits an owner of property that has no access to a public road to obtain an easement to reach the road. That would require a court action to establish ($$$), and it is questionable whether such an easement would be created that would accommodate funeral processions under that doctrine.

Maybe that is why the 2 acres went for $200,000.

Is the ...more
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on Jun 30, 09 11:01 PM
The problem, Publius, is that you're citing and applying legal principles -- correctly, I believe -- but this is more than a legal matter. (To the extent that it is a legal matter, it presents a he said/she said factual issue, a question for the jury, and my jury vote, as stated in a previous comment, is that it's not believable that the cemetery association could have been so foolish as to go ahead and buy land based only on the ephemeral representations recorded in the Trustees' minutes -- there ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1868), Quiogue on Jul 5, 09 9:11 PM