Although it came out of the blue and was discussed without much fanfare at a recent town board work session, Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s proposal to create a historic district in the heart of Bridgehampton has merit.
Unlike the villages of Sag Harbor and Southampton as well as its neighbor, East Hampton Town, Southampton Town has always been reluctant to take the necessary steps to protect its historic structures, and that neglect shows.
Take the case of a beautiful 19th century Greek Revival farmhouse on Ocean Road in Bridgehampton that disappeared earlier this year. Passersby were aghast when they saw that the mature shade trees surrounding the home had been felled by chain saw. Within a few weeks, the house itself was gone because the town’s Landmarks and Historic Districts Board was powerless to prevent its demolition. In its place, yet another oversized house of the kind the East End is increasingly known for was being shoehorned onto the lot. The farmhouse may not have been the most important building in Bridgehampton, but its loss is an example of death by 1,000 cuts.
While the idea of providing meaningful protection to the town’s many historic structures is a good one, the way the Bridgehampton proposal was rolled out was anything but smooth. Having residents learn through their local newspaper that the town is considering adopting rules that could have an impact on their property values is a sure way to create the kind of opposition that could ground the idea before it takes off.
The effort would be better served if the town board were to organize a presentation that could be made first to the hamlet’s Citizens Advisory Committees as well as other civic organizations. Scheduling a forum in Bridgehampton to discuss the issue and inviting in experts in the field to offer their advice would be helpful. People might be more inclined to lend their support if they are educated about some of the valuable tax breaks historic preservation can entail.
It’s obvious the honorary “hamlet heritage area” designation given Bridgehampton and other historic areas in town are toothless and unable to provide the kind of protection the town’s historic character so desperately needs. Let’s hope the town board persists in this effort, which appears to be coming in the nick of time.