Stewardship Plan Pitched For Sag Harbor’s Cilli Farm Preserve

The Sag Harbor Village Board heard a proposal to create a nature education center in the Cilli Farm preserve off Long Island Avenue this week. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

People who have lived in Sag Harbor for more than 20 years might remember when a person, dressed in a cow costume, stood outside the Sag Harbor Post Office encouraging passersby to sign a petition to “Save Cilli Farm,” which, at the time, was being eyed as the future site of a tennis club with its courts protected from the elements by an inflated bubble.

In July 2000, Suffolk County, Southampton Town, and the Village of Sag Harbor joined forces to buy a 9-acre portion of the property to preserve it as parkland. But over the years, the property, which has been left alone, has become overgrown, and, judging by the number of empty cans and bottles that litter the ground, it is also a popular place for kids to sneak off to drink a beer or hard seltzer.

On Tuesday, Sag Harbor native Drew Harvey, who has established a nonprofit called Dawgpatch Bandits, Inc. — more on that name later — appeared before the Sag Harbor Village Board with an ambitious plan to change all that.

Mr. Harvey said his initial plan would be to commit his organization to finding the volunteers and raising the money needed to pull out old car parts and other junk from the property, remove invasive vegetation, put in walking and biking paths, and install signs explaining the local fauna and flora. In short, make it a functioning, low-impact park.

He told the Village Board on Tuesday that Dawgpatch Bandits would raise the money needed for what he estimated would be the $28,000 annual cost of maintaining the park through its annual fundraising efforts.

He said improvements like pollinating gardens and rain gardens could wait for now. “We’d be giving the people the park that was bought for them basically 20 years ago,” he said.

Mr. Harvey began to unveil the more ambitious part of his vision — one that would involve buying the neighboring 1.5-acre property, selling the development rights to Southampton Town, and renovating the home, a dairy barn, and a bottling barn for use as both a community center and headquarters for Dawgpatch Bandits — but Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy, pointing to the board’s lengthy agenda, asked him to revisit that project at a later date.

The Cilli Farm preserve, which is bounded by West Water Street, Long Island Avenue, and Glover Street, seems to have been forgotten shortly after the county put up half the $900,000 purchase price, with the town and village splitting the other half.

“Twenty years ago, when it was bought, the town and the village were supposed to assign a manager to the park to take on stewardship, but that apparently fell through the cracks,” Mr. Harvey said.

Dawgpatch Bandits was formed in 2018 when Mr. Harvey and a couple of friends rode their bicycles from San Diego, where he attended the University of San Diego, to raise money to build a workout station behind Pierson High School as a memorial to teacher Michael Semkus, who had died of a drug overdose. The fundraiser also supported a nonprofit in California, also created for a friend who died as a result of opioid abuse.

It was incorporated in 2019, and more recent efforts have raised money for a scholarship to help the cost of a recovering addicts’ stay at the Long Island Center for Recovery and to build workout stations at the Long Island Center and another treatment center in California.

The name Dawgpatch Bandits came from a bike trip Mr. Harvey and some friends took from Santa Barbara to San Francisco. They stayed in Dogpatch, a former blue-collar neighborhood on the city’s east side. The bandits part came from the ride itself. “We were riding all day and in and out of different towns,” he said. “We were living like bandits.”

Unorthodox name or not, board members were impressed by the offer.

“To a large extent, nobody knows what goes on down there,” said Trustee Aidan Corish. “It’s just deer and ticks and trash.” He called the proposal “a wonderful idea.”

“I can’t off the top of my head think of another arrangement like this,” added Trustee James Larocca.

Mr. Harvey said he had already discussed his proposal with county officials and had gained the support of County Legislator Bridget Fleming. The need now, he said, is for the village and town to work out an arrangement that will allow his organization to act as steward of the property.

His broader goal, he added, would be to get Southampton Town to commit money from its Community Preservation Fund to buy the development rights for the neighboring farm property, with Dawgpatch Bandits buying the land itself. The three main buildings would be renovated, with one used as a community center, one for the property’s managers, and the third as a home for his nonprofit.