We’re always amazed by the cajones of property owners who thumb their noses at the law. Sometimes it comes in the form of so-called “tree farms” that give homeowners tax benefits; sometimes it’s a total disregard for local history; and sometimes it’s just gratuitous building with little care for what anyone thinks. They would almost be admirable if their actions weren’t so annoying. With that, here are five brazen homeowners who legally stretched the limits of the law and made us sad in the process.
Remember this guy? Reclusive billionaire Ira Rennert’s 65-acre beachside compound in Sagaponack inspired deep bitterness when presented in 1998. Known as Fair Field, the property became home to a 57,770-square-foot mansion, a playhouse, power plant, 20-car garage, beach pavilions and more. It was completed in 2003 on a former potato field, and the entire complex effectively used up the last of the hamlet’s seaside fields. Outraged by the project’s scale and grandiosity, residents formed a homeowners association whose sole mission was to challenge the town’s green light for the project. There was a series of full-page ads in the local press denouncing “the rape of Sagaponack,” and more. We cannot imagine having that many people hate us. We’d just curl up in a ball and die. More than a decade later, things have clearly calmed down, but this property is still seen by many as a very large stain on the landscape.
Last fall, the owners of a home in Southampton installed a fence and hedge in a town-owned cemetery. The cemetery is home to the remains of some of the first settlers of Southampton—and the fence, which was about 10 feet inside the property line, potentially disturbed historic grave sites or headstone pieces that may have broken off and been buried along the edges of the cemetery. Sigh. Let’s show a little respect for our dead, shall we? The homeowners, Mirek Denis and Anne Chwat, blamed their landscaper for mistakenly placing the fence on cemetery grounds (nice move), had it removed and agreed to pay for remediation of the site. We’re glad it’s resolved, but with a modicum of planning, it all could’ve been avoided.
Our favorite Material Girl apparently decided to become a farmer last summer, or at least look like one. After purchasing a parcel adjacent to her horse farm in Bridgehampton, Madonna created a tree farm much to the chagrin of neighbors, who believed she was using the tree farm to secure privacy at her mansion. It also blocked pastoral views for passersby. The parcel was a bargain at a reported $2.2 million, as the development rights had already been purchased for $10 million by Southampton Town and Suffolk County. Don’t celebs realize that most people driving down these roads just want to see open land? They’re not hoping to spy a celebrity while moving at 40 mph. Just putting that out there.
Meet more tree farmers, this time in Sagaponack. Marc Goldman, Michael Hirtenstein and Milton Berlinski, who own a 43-acre oceanfront property in the village, pledged to keep about 25 acres undeveloped, maintaining scenic views of the property’s farmland. In exchange, they enjoyed tax relief on that portion of the land. Ahh, must be nice. But after Mr. Goldman, who owns the majority share, was denied permission to build a rather giant home, much of the preserved land suddenly became home to Christmas trees. The plantings were believed to be an act of retaliation, but Mr. Goldman denied that, saying he had always planned to do something agricultural. Mm hmm. And the move didn’t violate the easement because the Peconic Land Trust said so. In short, the public lost a beautiful vista that was promised to them, because laws have loopholes that need to be stitched up.
Here’s one for the books. In 2013, David and Silvia Hermer purchased a home in Southampton Village and wanted to build a new one in its stead. But when they proposed it, opponents said that the current house was believed to have been inhabited by Pyrrhus Concer, an African-American who was born an indentured servant. The couple’s request to demolish it was denied and they threatened to sue the village, charging their rights as property owners were being denied. The two parties reached an agreement, and the village salvaged historic artifacts before the building was demolished. It was later noted that the core frame of the home was, in fact, owned by the Concer family and worthy of landmark status. Gah! Fast forward to last summer and Southampton Town agreed to purchase the property for $4.3 million, using Community Preservation Fund monies. So basically the Hermers demolished what should’ve been a local landmark and then made the town pay them to give it up. Having paid $2.75 million for the property, they got a $1.55 million windfall and didn’t even have to build anything! We have no words.
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