Forcing Sagaponack: How the Village of Sagaponack Got Founded in Spite of Itself

Whenever the rich down by the ocean want the town to send in the bulldozers and put sand on the beach to shore up their dunes, the locals say oh no, that raises our taxes. No fair. And indeed it isn’t fair.

The fact that the rich know this is true actually resulted in the formation of a new village in the Hamptons, although not the one they intended.

For the past 20 years, at an ever increasing rate, erosion has been biting at the dunes at the back of the ocean beach along a six-mile stretch from the Southampton Town line in the east to Water Mill in the west.

The oceanfront residents of this community had tried for many years before that time to get the Town to spend tens of millions of dollars to reinforce the dunes. Finally, in utter frustration about ten years ago, they gave up and said well, since the locals are right, let’s make our own Village. They mapped out an impossibly ridiculous, pencil-thin stretch of land that was seven miles long and on average two houses deep, encompassing the dunes, the oceanfront houses and the road behind them for the whole seven miles. This would be the Village of Dunehampton. Why not?

Well, because there were three unincorporated hamlets in Southampton that ran down to the beach in these areas. Three had school districts, one had a fire department, all had post offices and all of them ran from a short distance north of the Montauk Highway all the way down to the ocean. They were, and are, Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and Water Mill. If the new village of Dunehampton were successfully formed—and all that the people living in this ridiculous area had to do to make that happen was have a petition approved by Southampton Town and vote in the majority for it—it would chop off the crown jewel of these communities, landlock them, and, at the whim of the rich, possibly even lead to extremely limited access for only the slightly less rich in the three hamlets or any other outsiders.

What to do? There seemed only one way to stop this and that would be to incorporate at least one of the three hamlets before Dunehampton could. This would strike a dagger through the heart of those rebellious oceanfronters. Leaders of the Bridgehampton community met to consider incorporating. If Bridgehampton incorporated, the proposed Dunehampton would be split in two, with one part to the east (Sagaponack) and one part to the west. That would end it. But the leaders of the Sagaponack community also considered incorporating. In the end, Bridgehampton backed away. Let Sagaponack do it. Indeed, Sagaponack, as they thought about it further, warmed up to the idea. Indeed, maybe this is a pretty good idea after all. In the end, they voted 285 to 11, almost unanimously, to create their village. They now have a mayor and a village hall and even village zoning laws in many cases different from Town law. It’s been a big success. However, it did not do anything to solve the problem of the sea lapping at the foundations of the homes of the rich on the ocean.

Years ago, a majority of these oceanfront residents petitioned Southampton Town to allow them to create a separate tax district. They’d use this tax district to pay an estimated $24 million themselves to shore up their oceanfront homes with sand. Southampton didn’t object, although as it turns out, the town will have to vote approval as well, and as their part, it will cost $3 million.

The cost of this, per property down at the ocean, would range from just over $1000 to $200,000 a year. Per property in the Villages or towns, it is far, far less. Since there are thousands of properties in Southampton Town for every one down by the ocean, the cost might be about .00054 per dollar of taxable value per year. Is it worth it to keep the rich in town and to bolster the community? Probably. But will it work? In the past a single vicious storm could tear out a million tons of sand overnight. That could be the fate of this attempt. Here today, gone tomorrow. After that, what will happen? There are 141 properties in this district. The next step might be to armor the beach with jetties as was done years ago on a four-mile stretch of the Dune Road peninsula in Westhampton. There, the 16 jetties, at quarter mile intervals, extend along the beach for three miles of oceanfront and today, 40 years later, the beach from dune to ocean there is as wide as two football fields.

The seas will rise higher and higher because of global warming and the rest of Long Island may go underwater, but these 250 oceanfront homes, condominiums and beach clubs on Dune Road with their jetties out front will remain, steadfast, safe and sound.

And they’ll be able to take the ferry from there to the reinforced Sagaponack Island.

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