On September 14th, the Mayor and Village Trustees heard public comments on Lake Agawam Conservancy’s proposed plan to restore the health of Lake Agawam and to preserve more than 11 acres of land in the center of our Village as a nature filled oasis for the public. Thank you to everyone who joined the meeting.
The proposed multi-step plan was developed with the involvement and full support of Village and Town officials. In addition to preserving more than 11 acres of open space along Lake Agawam, the plan calls for the installation of a substantial vegetative buffer along the edge of the Lake, for public access along the quarter mile of Lake Agawam for walking, biking, jogging, boating and fishing, and for the creation of Southampton Gardens, designed by renowned architect and Southampton resident Peter Marino.
This is a rare opportunity to consider seriously before the possibility is lost to private development. Although the public debate has largely centered around whether or not to close Pond Lane to cars, in truth what is under consideration is the sustainability of the Village and the restoration of Lake Agawam. It should be recognized that the Lake in the center of our Village has been largely ignored and allowed to deteriorate to become one of the most polluted lakes in New York State. Lake Agawam’s poor health is threatening our own health and well-being and that of future generations. The question is whether we as a community want to preserve our land and clean our water in Southampton, or not.
In 2019, the Conservancy was formed to restore the health of Lake Agawam and its surrounding ecosystem. The Lake is plagued by high levels of blue-green algae or cyanobacteria which emits a toxin that can cause breathing, digestive and liver problems and even death. The Conservancy has tackled the root causes of cyanobacteria to make the Lake and all our water safer.
Lake Agawam is not an isolated example of water pollution. All our water on the East End, from the groundwater to the ocean, is contaminated by the same factors: antiquated septic systems, toxic landscape chemicals, road run off and over development. We must act now to save the Lake and all our water bodies.
During the September 14th public meeting, some members of our community raised questions about the Conservancy’s proposed plan, including about whether open land in the Village should be preserved or developed, whether Pond Lane should be closed to cars and trucks and reconfigured to include a vegetative buffer and safe biking and walking paths, whether our community should have a public garden, and how the Conservancy would design and fund the garden. It is clear that many misconceptions about the land preservation plan remain.
The Conservancy welcomes community input. On Thursday, September 28th, from noon to 2 p.m., the Southampton Press will hold a discussion on “A New Park and a Cleaner Lake on the Horizon for Agawam” at the Southampton Social Club, 256 Elm Street. We urge you to attend and to ask questions. We also invite you to walk the 11 acres of land along Pond Lane that the Conservancy seeks to preserve as open space.
Here are the Conservancy’s answers to the community’s questions:
Step 1: Preserve over 11 acres of open space along Lake Agawam on Pond Lane
Who is trying to preserve the land? With what funds? Is anyone on the Conservancy board personally profiting from the creation of the gardens? Will Village taxes go up?
This motivation to preserve this gorgeous stretch of 11 acres along Pond Lane was purely philanthropic. The land includes two parcels, one 4.8 acres and the other 3.6 acres. In 2021, with the encouragement of Village and Town officials, the Paulson Family Foundation bought both parcels to keep them from speculative development, with the understanding that the Town of Southampton’s Community Preservation Fund (CPF) would acquire one or both lots. The Town CPF is funded by a 2% transfer tax on new home sales and not paid by existing homeowners. The Town routinely buys properties in all of the Villages for preservation and parkland. The Town CPF currently has more than $250 million in available funds and SHV has contributed $200 million in the past 20 years. If not spent here, the Town will just buy property in Sagaponack or Sag Harbor or another village instead.
The Village’s Master Plan identified 137 and 153 Pond Lane as priorities for preservation. The CPF already owns 111 Pond Lane. No one on the Lake Agawam Conservancy board will profit from this preservation plan. No board members or advisors live on Pond Lane, some of us do not even live on the lake. The Conservancy has offered to be the stewards of the property and fund both the planting of the gardens and their maintenance through private donations. No one’s taxes are going up as a result of this plan. Even before starting formal fundraising, we have secured commitments approaching $10 million needed to install the gardens. We intend to raise at least another $10 million for a maintenance endowment, and to raise funds annually for maintenance.
The current plan is for the Town CPF to buy one parcel (137 Pond Lane) for exactly the same price that the Paulson Family Foundation paid for it ($13.75 million), and for the Foundation to donate the other parcel (153 Pond Lane valued at $11.25 million) to the proposed gardens. Alternatively, the Town CPF could buy both parcels, and the Paulson Family Foundation will donate the proceeds from the sale of one lot to the park as part of the proposed $20 million budget.
Step 2: Install a beautiful public gardens designed by Southampton resident and renowned architect Peter Marino, which will be built and maintained by private donations.
Will these gardens be too expensive to install and maintain? Will the gardens require landscape chemicals? Does Southampton need a public garden?
The envisioned garden would include walking trails, beautiful trees that oxygenate the air we breathe, provide animal and bird habitat, and will serve as a model for how a garden can be both gorgeous and sustainable. We will not use toxic landscape chemicals, in fact that is one of the central educational missions of our nonprofit! We intend to use native plants, shrubs, and trees to the fullest extent possible, as well as potentially use water from Lake Agawam to irrigate the gardens in a process known as fertigation. We will seek input from environmental and landscape experts in planning and maintaining the gardens.
This four seasons garden will include perennials, bulbs, shrubs, and trees that are planted in such a way that every season a different group of flowering or attractive foliage plants emerge and are showcased. For example, blue, green, and gold conifers dominate in the winter, bulbs and early flowering shrubs and trees in the spring, summer is again flowering shrubs and trees with interesting ground covers and a lot of pollinator friendly plants, fall is mostly about gorgeous foliage. Annuals will be used only when absolutely necessary.
This garden will not be a replica of what is essentially a town green and playground in Lake Agawam Park. This stretch of land is spectacular, and it is substantially larger. It has some of the best views in the Village, old growth trees and sloping hills. It will be an oasis all year long for bird watching, peace and quiet under evergreens, environmental educational programs for children and what our community dreams up. We are just at the beginning of imagining the possibilities, but we know that opening this land to the community will be good for everyone’s mental and physical health.