Preserving A Front Yard: Town to Purchase Land Around Customs House


The Town of Southampton is poised to preserve two acres of woodlands and wetlands behind the Custom House on Main and Garden Street in Sag Harbor, as well as obtain a conservation easement for the large expanse of lawn in front of the historic structure.

According to Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris, the conservation easement on the front lawn is of particular importance as the lawn is large enough to be subdivided from the rest of the parcel as a conforming lot, and therefore could be a residential lot ripe for development should a subdivision occur. It was that very realization, he said on Monday, that prompted village officials to contact the Town of Southampton two years ago in the hopes the town would consider a purchase of the land through the Community Preservation Fund.

And now, it appears the town is just a public hearing away from solidifying a $750,000 purchase for the easement and over two-acres of woodland and wetlands behind the Custom House after negotiating with the land’s owner, the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities (SPLIA). The Village of Sag Harbor will be a third party beneficiary of the easement and will enter into a stewardship agreement with the Town of Southampton for the preserved acreage.

On Tuesday, August 12 the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees discussed the purchase at its regular board meeting with attorney Lauren Stiles of Twomey, Latham & Shea, the firm representing SPLIA in the purchase.

Stiles noted the way the conservation easement is written, both the village and the town will share rights to the lawn and will be able to host special events there.

According to the pending easement agreement, the village and the town will be able to host five events per calendar year on the front lawn, although only one event is allowed per month.

On Tuesday, Ferraris said the front lawn would be used for passive, public activities. Events like the children’s fair during HarborFest, which has traditionally taken place on the lawn, will continue at the space.

“It’s certainly my opinion this parcel not be farmed out for any commercial use other than it currently is at this time,” he said on Monday.

SPLIA will be sent a list of proposed event by the town and village for approval at the beginning of the summer season, according to the proposed easement.

SPLIA is not limited to the number of events they may host on the site, but Stiles noted the reason the easement is so specific is because SPLIA is contacted by a number of groups hoping for events on the lawn, and they try and limit allowances only for public events, historic events and those for children in the area.

The Sag Harbor Planning Board will have to hear a subdivision application by SPLIA to officially split the three-acre property into one parcel over two-acres for preservation and another parcel under one acre, which will house the Custom House and the front lawn. That parcel will continue to be owned by SPLIA.

On Tuesday, Ferraris added part of the agreement includes a provision where proceeds from the sale of the easement are held in a fund for maintenance and programming at the Custom House specifically.

The Custom House was originally the home of Henry Packer Dering, Sag Harbor’s first custom’s master in 1789. His son, Henry Thomas Dering, continued the family tradition, becoming customs master after his father.

“It really is a win-win situation,” said Ferraris of the impending purchase, noting it aids the village by protecting an important vista and space, and the town and SPLIA, which will be able to use the proceeds to continue their work, and maintain the Custom House.

“We have seen the difficulties organizations run into stewarding these properties,” said Ferraris on Monday. “It is important that the Custom House remain in its present condition.”