Southampton Town officials have reached out to New York State for a determination as to whether a sliver of property in Water Mill is considered parkland, a designation that would void a recent agreement the Board of Trustees entered into to allow the adjacent homeowner access rights to public land.
The property, which is located at 475 Rose Hill Road in Water Mill, was transferred last year from the town to the trustees, who then entered into an agreement allowing exclusive use of the property in exchange for maintenance of a boat launch and parking on the remaining portion of the land owned by the trustees.
A review of historic documents and public commentary generated concern as to the legality of the agreement, and both the town board and trustees sent a joint letter on June 22 to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey seeking a determination.
The letter specifically asks whether the property could be considered public parkland. If it is deemed public parkland, the trustees’ agreement would be revoked. If the town still wished to allow the adjacent homeowner access to the property, an act of the state legislature would be required to remove the public parkland designation from the property, approving its legal alienation to another entity.
DiNapoli’s office contends park alienation occurs when a municipality wishes to sell, lease, or discontinue the use of municipal parkland. The core legal basis governing the use of parkland comes from common law, called the public trust doctrine. The doctrine comprises 150 years of state court decisions, which explain when municipalities must seek state legislative approval to alienate public parkland, according to a press release issued by town officials.
The property in question has been traditionally used as an access point Hayground Cove and Mecox Bay for town boaters and fishermen. A boat launch ramp on the property has been maintained by the trustees since the 1970s.
The property was originally purchased in 1943 for $750 from the town’s surplus fund and the resolution supporting its purchase stated the property would be used for the public to enjoy the products of the waters of Hayground Bay.