Sag Harbor Hills Beach Access Suit Settled

A map of the Sag Harbor Hills area, showing Hillside Drive East. Image via Google Maps

Mile High Partners, a limited liability corporation that owns property at the end of Hillside Drive East in the Sag Harbor Hills neighborhood, on Wednesday settled a lawsuit it filed against the Sag Harbor Hills Improvement Association in which it alleged the organization erected a fence that illegally cut off the property’s beach access.

According to a lawsuit filed September 10 in New York State Supreme Court, the association in March of 2016 “suddenly installed a wired fence” blocking an opening in an existing fence around the property in question, a merged lot known as 106, 110 and 116 Hillside Drive East, after Mile High Partners purchased it in 2016.

The suit alleged the new fence prevented anyone at the Mile High Partners property from accessing the beach via a pathway through a wetlands reserve that the plaintiff claimed has existed since the 1950s and has also been used by nearby neighbors for beach access since then.

The new fence “block[ed] off access to the pathway in the reserve area directly from the property, and they installed a ‘No Trespassing’ sign on their flimsy fence,” according to the lawsuit. “The association improperly seeks to block Mile High’s access to the reserve area and the pathway leading to the beach. Upon information and belief, the association plan[s] to erect an illegal permanent fence or other structure to permanently block Mile High’s access to the beach.”

Attorney Brian DeSesa, representing Mile High Partners, said Wednesday afternoon a settlement had been reached but had yet to be signed, and could not discuss the specifics of the settlement until it was finalized.

On Tuesday, he said the fence had been removed in mid- to late September, shortly after the suit was filed. He said the suit involved “formalizing an access path” to the beach.

“It was really more of a clarification to clear up some old title issues,” Mr. DeSesa said.

A new, single-family house was under construction on the property at 106, 110 and 116 Hillside Drive East at the time the new fence was erected, Mr. DeSesa said. The house is currently vacant, he said. The New York Times in August reported the seven-bedroom, 6,760-square-foot house, on eight-tenths of an acre with a swimming pool, is listed for sale at $11,995,000.

A series of emails filed as part of the lawsuit between Bruce Bronster, a principal owner in Mile High Partners — who is also involved in the redevelopment of several other nearby properties — and Eglon Simons, president of the Sag Harbor Hills Improvement Association, show attempts to resolve the situation dating back to 2016.

In an April 2016 email, Mr. Simons told Mr. Bronster, “As for the fencing, it was installed to avoid damage and encroachment on the beach, as we understand has occurred when new neighbors have engaged in construction in the developments in the past. We are prepared to consider removing the fencing when we conclude that it is no longer necessary to avoid damage or encroachment, or any other significant change to the beach, or the ways in which the residents have enjoyed the beach in the past.”

In the same email, Mr. Simons also asked Mr. Bronster to clarify whether his property acquisitions “reflect an intention to change the historical character of the developments, which have historical significance to African American families.”

Sag Harbor Hills is one of Sag Harbor’s traditionally African-American waterfront communities, along with the Azurest and Ninevah subdivisions, which collectively go by the acronym “SANS.” SANS residents recently received word their neighborhoods were eligible for landmark status via the national and state registers of historic places. A hotspot for the redevelopment of older properties into newer houses with modern amenities, SANS has also been the backdrop of racially-charged incidents recently. In July, TV personality Sunny Hostin said someone called her the “n-word” while she was relaxing on her deck  with friends. Several weeks ago, Sag Harbor Hills resident Gwyned Simpson said in a letter to The Express a Caucasian man called the police on her while she was walking in her neighborhood and falsely accused her of having a gun.

Mr. DeSesa said the tone of the Mile High Partners suit has been “amicable,” without reference to controversies that neighbors have alleged in recent years.

“Not in court, I should say,” Mr. DeSesa said. “I’ve had some of that on [Mr. Bronster’s] architectural review board applications, but not on this.”

Mr. Simons could not be reached for comment this week.