After Superstorm Sandy flooded and destroyed numerous houses in the Bay View Pines and Waters Edge communities in Flanders, the state launched a program to purchase those properties with the goal of leaving them undeveloped and uninhabited, hoping to ensure area homeowners would never again be affected by a similar disaster.
Of the 26 lots acquired in those neighborhoods under the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program, 16 were given to Southampton Town for drainage improvements, such as rain gardens or swales, while 10 others were given to the town under the premise that they would be allowed to revert to their natural state. So far, 10 of the aforementioned structures have been demolished; the remaining 16 are proposed to be knocked down early this year.
Now, some nearby residents are concerned the sites will become eyesores or even dumping grounds once they are left undeveloped — unless someone makes an effort to take care of them.
Ron Fisher, president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, said the town has no intention of maintaining the lots itself. Instead, some residents have offered to do it — so long as the town can find a way to allow it.
“I’m [one of] the one that wants to maintain the property,” said Fred Foelsch, who lives on Sylvan Avenue. “I’ve got one lot next to me and one next to that, and I have offered to care for those two properties. I’m in favor of letting individuals care for them. The town can own them; I don’t want to own them. I just don’t want to see them become an eyesore.”
Kurt Braser, who lives across the street from Mr. Foelsch and whose property backs up to a small canal, said four of the lots are in close proximity to his home. Although he’s not concerned about the properties becoming dumping grounds, he’s still willing to help maintain them.
“It only has to be mowed two or three times a year,” he said, even offering to erect a bat house to help tackle the area’s mosquito problem.
Southampton Town’s plans to install drainage on some of the lots, Mr. Braser said, “is a waste of money, as far as I’m concerned. There’s a lot more things to do in that community than to put money in.”
The groundwater table in the area is very high and will undo any drainage projects, he said. He’d prefer a dune retention and water retention project that would raise the grade of the properties.
Richard Naso, who lives on Pine Avenue, one of the areas hit hardest by Superstorm Sandy, said he’s not worried the lots will turn into dumping grounds and likes the idea of leaving them undeveloped.
“I’d rather have my neighbors and their houses back, but if it’s going to go back to its natural state, why not?” he said.
Of the 26 properties, nine are on Pine Avenue, five are on Sylvan Avenue, four are on Temple Avenue, two are on Royal Avenue, two are on Oaks Avenue, two are on Longneck Boulevard, one is on Laurel Avenue and one is on Fantasy Drive.
The properties cannot be sold per the agreement Southampton Town signed with the state and can only be given to another municipality or to a qualified conservation organization, according to assistant town attorney Carl Benincasa, who spoke to the Town Board about the subject at a Dec. 22 work session. There are also limits on what can be done with the lots, he said.
Mr. Benincasa suggested enacting a license agreement between the town and anyone looking to help take care of the properties. Town officials said they liked the idea, but raised questions about the mechanism for doing so.
Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said that if the person doing the work is getting any value from it for their own property, then the town should be getting paid by them.
“Even with licensing, there has to be a process,” he said at the Dec. 22 meeting. “Do we advertise it? Do we go with the first person that asks?”
Councilman John Bouvier said only a few residents have volunteered their time.
Mr. Schneiderman also said a concern about liability would need to be addressed before the town can allow someone to maintain one of the properties.
Town Board members agreed to come up with an overall plan to address the lots and what can be done with them.
Photo: This Pine Avenue property is one of more than 20 in Flanders that were bought by New York State following Hurricane Sandy with the goal of leaving them undeveloped. (Credit: Tim Gannon)