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.

Step 3: Install a critical vegetative buffer of at least 25 feet along one-quarter mile of Lake Agawam to prevent toxic runoff from polluting the Lake and our beaches.

What difference will a buffer make? Why can’t we just have the park and the road?

Creating a native plant-filled buffer at the edge of Lake Agawam where Pond Lane is currently crumbling into the water is vital to returning the Lake to its natural healthy state, as the buffer plantings help prevent sediments, pesticides, and large amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen from entering the Lake. What is good for the Lake is good for all our other water bodies, including the ocean. Right now, the road chokes off the Lake from its natural habitat.  Polluted road run-off and stormwater runs directly down the road into the lake, creating toxic waters that then spew directly into the ocean when the drainpipe must be opened after heavy rainfalls multiple times a season.

Vegetative buffers are a protective barrier of plants between a landscape and a water body that help improve water quality by filtering nutrients, sediment, and pollutants before they reach the water. They provide wildlife habitats for birds, butterflies and even fish. A buffer acts to slow water movement and filter it before it enters the water body. As Dr. Christopher Gobler has explained, as rainstorms become heavier, stormwater pours more quickly into water bodies, making buffers more essential.  With a buffer to offset the rise in the Lake’s water level every time it rains, the drainpipe to the ocean can be opened less frequently. The great hope is that as the Lake water becomes cleaner, opening the drainpipe will not require beach closures as it does now and the water pouring into the ocean will be cleaner.

Regardless of whether CPF acquires land for our community preservation, Pond Lane must be reconfigured to include a substantial buffer of at least 25 feet to meet environmental standards as Lake Agawam is a regulated freshwater wetland and requires protection. The Pond Lane right of way is not wide enough for both a two-lane road, 25-foot vegetative buffer, and bicycle and pedestrian paths. The Village’s widely vetted and adopted Master Plan specifically recommended Pond Lane’s closure to cars and trucks and the creation of a park along Pond Lane.

Step 4: Connect the Park to the Lake by creating one-quarter mile of direct public access for recreation along Lake Agawam, with safe dedicated paths for walkers, joggers and bicyclists.

Won’t closing Pond Lane exacerbate traffic in the Village and eliminate a historic road? Will there be enough parking?

Pond Lane is both dilapidated and dangerous. It is literally eroding into the Lake. Pond Lane was never designated a historic road by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Furthermore, Pond Lane’s existing curb radius does not meet minimum requirements for 25 mph roadway. Pond Lane at its sharp curve does not meet recommended stopping sight distance. The absence of designated walking and bicycle paths puts bikers and pedestrians at significant risk.

There are multiple alternate routes to travel to the Village center, and the closure of Pond Lane to motor vehicles will reduce its use by trade vehicles as a cut-through to avoid Hill Street. Closure will reduce traffic on our roads as more residents leave their cars at home and walk and bicycle to the Village center.

Making it easier to bike and walk around the Village will ease congestion by providing alternatives to driving. It is important to understand that Pond Lane will still be open to the public as a part of everyone’s daily routine, indeed it will be safer and more welcoming than it is today.

More parking spaces, approximately 40 more, will be added to the area around Pond Lane as part of this plan. Equally as important, the Lake is also historic (considerably older than the road as it was formed by a glacier) and deserves to be cleaned up and publicly accessible for everyone.

Step 5: With $10 million in funding secured with the Conservancy’s support, install a cutting-edge algae harvester in Doscher Park to clean three million gallons of Lake Agawam water every day.  

What does the algae harvester have to do with the gardens? Can the Village install the harvester if the Pond Lane land is sold to developers?

The algae harvester is one of the only solutions that will help eradicate the blue green algae plaguing Lake Agawam in our lifetime. The harvester will clean three million gallons of Lake water a day. The only location for the harvester directly adjacent to the Lake is Doscher Park. There is not another place to put it. We can also create more parking spaces there, which will help businesses. If the Pond Lane parcels are sold to developers, the Village and Town will have to identify a different parcel, equal or better, to preserve in exchange for the Doscher area. That is a very difficult thing to do as these are the last two parcels in the same area that fit the criteria.

Placing the harvester on the Doscher Park site requires that the parkland use is “alienated,” meaning the public cannot use that space as originally intended. So the law says we have to compensate the loss of parkland with other parkland, of equal or better area and value. If you don’t have other parkland to swap for it, then you can’t use it. If that is the case, we will potentially lose the funding for the algae skimmer and lose this ability to clean the Lake.

Why not put the Sewer Treatment Plant on the vacant land on Pond Lane?

New York and Suffolk County Health department regulations would not allow the Village to place its wastewater treatment facility on Pond Lane right next to Lake Agawam, because then the treated effluent will end up in the Lake. There is a 0 year travel time between Pond Lane and the Lake, and in terms of the Health Department, a 0-year travel time means there is no time within the soil to percolate and filter the effluent. Lake Agawam is a regulated freshwater wetland, and this is not compatible with the standards for its protection and so it would not be permitted by NYSDEC either.

Lake Agawam Conservancy is as eager as everyone to get a sewage treatment plant installed for the Village as that is critical to cleaning all our water and creating a vibrant business district.

What does the garden have to do with the Pyrrus Concer homestead?

The creation of Southampton Gardens will provide a beautiful context and backdrop that maintains the historic vibrancy of this area.  Visitors can come to celebrate the legacy of Pyrrhus Concer, and the Conservancy fully supports the reconstruction of his home.

Linked below is the Conservancy’s September 14 presentation to the Mayor and Village Trustees, which includes preliminary plans, developed by Southampton’s Araiys Design, for the design of the 25-foot vegetative buffer, the bicycle and pedestrian paths, more than 40 additional parking spaces, the extension of the Lake Agawam Park boardwalk, and one-lane of permeable roadway for access for emergency vehicles:

We urge you to express your support for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our Village. Please write to the Mayor and the Trustees, it is important that they hear from everyone who cares about this matter.