Flanders Residents Decide: Sell Or Stay Put? - 27 East

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Flanders Residents Decide: Sell Or Stay Put?

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Science teachers at Southampton High School learn how a new Hitachi tabletop scanning electron microscope and computer donated to the district. BY ERIN MCKINLEY

Science teachers at Southampton High School learn how a new Hitachi tabletop scanning electron microscope and computer donated to the district. BY ERIN MCKINLEY

Sixth grader Grace O'Hare with a quail. ERIN MCKINLEY

Sixth grader Grace O'Hare with a quail. ERIN MCKINLEY

Flower arrangements at Topiaires in Southampton Village. ERICA THOMPSON

Flower arrangements at Topiaires in Southampton Village. ERICA THOMPSON

Flooding in Westhampton after Hurricane Sandy.

Flooding in Westhampton after Hurricane Sandy.

Flanders post Sandy in 2012.  PRESS FILE

Flanders post Sandy in 2012. PRESS FILE

Flanders post Sandy in 2012.  PRESS FILE

Flanders post Sandy in 2012. PRESS FILE

The 2013 Southampton High School Salutatorian and Valedictorian, Lindsay Wickersham and Vincent Ching-Roa were the last to carry the titles which were eliminated.

The 2013 Southampton High School Salutatorian and Valedictorian, Lindsay Wickersham and Vincent Ching-Roa were the last to carry the titles which were eliminated.

Larry O'Toole in his shop in Hampton Bays.  DANA SHAW

Larry O'Toole in his shop in Hampton Bays. DANA SHAW

author on Jun 16, 2014

Jack Colavito sat on his porch Friday afternoon, looking over Goose Creek, a small strip of water that leads into Flanders Bay. The World War II veteran, who bought his property in 1960, said he would not give up his home for anything.

This decision, on which Mr. Colavito stands firm, came into question recently when he received a letter in the mail from New York Rising, a branch of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, following Tropical Storm Lee, Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy. In the letter, the agency offered Mr. Colavito the option to sell his home to the state as part of New York Rising’s buyout program, as it has been doing since January 2013, beginning with Staten Island and eventually making its way to Suffolk County, where 600 homes qualify for the buyout.

Mr. Colavito declined the offer.

“I want to live here and die here,” he said last week. “This is my home.”

Residents of Oaks Avenue, including Mr. Colavito, are in a 100-year flood zone, meaning it has a 1 percent probability of flooding in any year, as determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

This classification extends to a majority of the homes on the Peconic, Reeves and Flanders bays. When Hurricane Sandy hit, many were among those East End homes hit hardest. To help them and other homeowners across the state, New York Rising developed acquisition and buyout programs—two separate programs offered to homeowners who qualify for one or the other. In the acquisition program, acquired properties will be resold and developed. In the buyout program, the property will be restored to its natural state.

One goal of the buyout program is to move residents to safer areas with a lower risk of flood damage, Barbara Bracaccio, a spokesperson at the Office of Storm Recovery, said last week. Homes must lie within a 100-year flood zone to qualify for the buyout, and many also qualified for it in Flanders because they had been severely storm-damaged.

Many of those homes are primary residences. In Flanders, a relatively low-income section of Southampton Town, the buyout could well have been the most feasible option for those who could not afford repairs or to wait for insurance checks as some homeowners are 18 months later.

The state has 30 applications from Flanders residents interested in accepting the buyout offer, according to Ms. Bracaccio, and the state has made 22 offers so far. The buyout program offers only the post-storm fair market value of a home, while the acquisition program offers the post-storm fair market value of the home plus the difference between the prestorm and post-storm value. For example, if a home was valued at $350,000 before the storm and $160,000 afterward, the acquisition program would offer the homeowner $160,000 plus up to $190,000 as an incentive.

A few of Mr. Colavito’s neighbors agreed with his decision not to sell, and have opted to remain in their homes as well. Cliff Birmingham, of Pine Avenue, one street east of Oaks Avenue, did not agree with the estimate of the value of his property offered by New York Rising.

“I put $200,000 into the interior of my home and I don’t think they took that into consideration,” Mr. Birmingham said. “I’m sure the program was good-hearted, and maybe if I was in my 30s or 40s I would consider it, but I’m 61. And it would be impossible for me to duplicate what I have for what they’re offering me.”

Gail Lucian, who also lives on Pine Avenue, did not even open the letter from New York Rising. She said she didn’t want to know what they would offer, nor did she care, because she will not sell. She has spent summers in the small cottage since she was nine years old. Now at 74, she has no plans to move.

For the homeowners who choose to take the buyout, their property is turned over to the Office of Storm Recovery, and after the structures are demolished, the land is restored to its original state. It is then donated back to the municipality for preservation—in Southampton Town’s case, through the Community Preservation Fund. Southampton Town Councilman Brad Bender explained in an email last week that PILOT money, or payment in lieu of taxes, will compensate school districts for the loss of property taxes after the land returns to wilderness.

Rebecca Sinclair, director of the buyout program, stressed that the properties will be maintained before being restored to their natural states. When the parcel is handed over to her office, she said, workers will be sent out to board the house from inside to keep squatters out, and to maintain it—cutting the lawn and so forth. The process of handing over a parcel of land takes four to six months, she said.

Once Ms. Sinclair’s office coordinates with the respective municipality, the homes will be demolished and the land will be restored to nature—within limits. “We will not neglect the bulkheads,” she said. “We need to maintain the property, which includes the bulkhead, to ensure that neighboring properties do not get damaged in the future.”

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