In a recent edition of Dan’s Papers, I told the story of how the Village of Sagaponack was founded seven years ago as a reaction to a bizarre attempt by some oceanfront homeowners to create a village down by the ocean two houses deep and seven miles long called DuneHampton. The proposed DuneHampton would include the crown jewel of the then-unincorporated hamlet of Sagaponack—its oceanfront. There was actually a race to see who could file the incorporation papers first. Sagaponack won. And they were glad they did.
The retelling of the story of Sagaponack’s founding reminded me of the fact that in my half century in this community, there have been three new villages formed. All have incredible stories in connection to their founding. Sagaponack is just one of them.
Dune Road is a barrier island that extends from Cupsogue Beach in the west all the way to Hampton Bays and Shinnecock in the east, a distance of some 15 miles. A series of bridges goes out to it from the mainland. At the western end of it, the Dune Road barrier island is, or was, part of the Town of Southampton, and in the 1960s and 1970s, an ambitious multimillion dollar group of jetties were ordered built to buttress the island from the waves of the Atlantic. The proposed jetties, 21 of them, were to be placed at quartermile intervals, and the construction company that won the bid began making them, starting in the east, in front of Westhampton Beach, and headed toward the Moriches Inlet. They never made it. They put in 11 jetties, and then the money spigot got turned off.
Because of how the sea pushes the sand from east to west along the ocean, sand got caught up in between the new jetties, making beaches and working very well. But after the last westerly jetty, it was a disaster. Without sand to replenish the beach, the oceanfront homes became unstable, causing their owners to abandon them, and after that they began to fall into the sea very spectacularly, one after another. In the end, nearly 190 houses were washed away. Today it seems hard to believe, but it’s true. In the end, the beaches were strewn with furniture, refrigerators, decks, cesspools and telephone poles and wires. What a mess.
The owners of each of these homes filed a class action lawsuit against Suffolk County, and later New York State and the federal government, for allowing this to happen by not finishing the jetty field. (All three governments contributed funds to build the jetties.)
Then a property owner named Gary Vegliante and others had an idea. (Vegliante’s home, on the bay side of the island, had survived.) Why not create an incorporated village out of this catastrophe? With a few houses still standing, they could do that if the “property owners” of the underwater properties would go along. It would just be a village on paper. But it had one very important thing in its favor. Due to an existing county law, if property owners in any village fail to pay their real estate taxes, the county pays it for them, taking a lien on the property which, if not reimbursed by the taxpayers, results in the properties being taken over by the county.
What a sensational idea! They formed a village with about 330 properties, created a budget that would require the residents to pay minor tax bills (but would armor their beach).
The county was now in the position of having to reimburse the village. It didn’t want to do that. At this point Mayor Vegliante and the County Supervisor went hat in hand to the federal government. A whole village had been destroyed. It needed to be restored. Help!
A village destroyed? The federal government was shocked. They sent in the Army Corps of Engineers and, for what amounts to under the $28 million budget, built a 60-foot-deep underpinning so that the island would never come completely apart again, buttressed it on either side with sand, and “gave” that new land to those who owned it. Along this stretch now, hundreds of new houses have been built, nearly all twice the size as those that were there before. The Village of Westhampton Dunes is thriving. And if before the feds came in you could buy a quarter acre of underwater “oceanfront” for $5,000, today, above ground, it might cost $5 million.
The third incorporated village that came into existence during my tenure here was the Village of Pine Valley. You may not have heard of Pine Valley, and that’s because Pine Valley no longer exists. It was founded in 1987. It got itself unincorporated in 1991.
If you think the stories about the founding of the Villages of Westhampton Dunes and Sagaponack are incredible, wait until you hear about Pine Valley.
Pine Valley was created at the urging of several developers. It encompassed the Riverhead traffic circle to the north (part of Riverhead) a stretch of Flanders heading down Route 24 toward Hampton Bays, and both the Riverhead Jail and the Suffolk County Center which includes offices, the courts in the county, various departments and offices—all of which are part of the Town of Southampton. The heart of the village, however, surrounded by all of the above, was, and still is, beautiful Wildwood Lake, which is surrounded by pine trees, homes and a few trailer parks.
There are about 800 people living in this community. The proponents of the village promised that by breaking away from the town of Southampton, they could lower taxes. In addition, they might be able to create a downtown on Flanders Road. In the end, the whole thing might be very profitable.
The village was created by a narrow margin, naming itself for the valley and the lake (and I suppose the beautiful mythical town in the famous soap opera “All My Children”). Part of a building was rented on the Riverhead traffic circle for a village hall. And pending upcoming elections, a part-time clerk was hired, as was a mayor to run the operation.
It soon became apparent, however, that they had bitten off more than they could chew. Southampton would be withdrawing police and highway services as soon as there could be replacements. There would be zoning matters to attend to. Signage to put up. A bureaucracy to create. A village budget was constructed, but when the shiny new villagers got their first tax bill, they found their taxes had gone up, not down. Soon there was talk about ending the village. At the village hall there were shouting matches. At one meeting a fistfight broke out and one of the residents got a bloody nose.
Jim Dreeben, the owner of Peconic Paddler, which at that time had its offices on the Riverhead Circle, sent Dan’s Papers a letter in February of 1990, describing the scene at Village Hall. He sent us what he said were quotes from some meetings he attended.
“It is NOT a conflict of interest. He is just a friend of mine and I think Pine Valley should pay him $895.”
“We appreciate your asking those fine questions, Larry, now sit down, you too Alan.”
“We are being sued by developers.”
“Accomplishments? Now let me think. Oh, yes, we have a village hall, a copying machine, matching desk blotter, carpet, curtains and toilet paper.”
“The taxpayers who can afford these (outrageous) taxes are, in fact, the ones who want to dissolve the village.”
“I am not a politician. In March, when I became Mayor, compared to Pine Valley, Romania will look like Sesame Street.”
“I am here in an advisory position only. You pay me $175 per hour to listen and $250 per hour to talk, plus $5 per mile and dinner.”
“The Ethics Committee is overworked, what with all these crooked politicians.”
“Of course the prisoners are residents. The jail is, in fact, in Pine Valley.”
This last comment came about as a result of perverse efforts made by those wishing to dis-incorporate the village. Unsure of how to proceed, they first passed around a petition to change the name of Pine Valley to “Joke,” as the comment to the answer to a common question.
“So where do you live?”
“That’s a joke.”
But “Joke” had to be taken seriously.
The reason is that if 10% of the residents sign a petition, then the petition must go
before the voters as a referendum. About 110 people signed the petition. That was more than 10%.
The proponents of the village were outraged. And they came up with a countermeasure. They declared that the prisoners in the jail—even though some were convicted felons and unable to vote—were residents of the Village of Pine Valley. That resulted in the number of people signing the petition to be less than 10%.
You can see where this is going. On March 20, 1990, the Village held a vote to decide whether to dissolve itself. The vote was 165 to 142 in favor. Some thought that when they voted that, the village would dissolve right away, but it didn’t. They needed to get New York State approval for that. And according to State law, a Village could not dissolve for at least one full calendar year after voting to do so, presumably to give the residents time to revoke that action. This meant that from March 1990 to December 1991, the Village had to continue to exist and so they continued to need to hold a monthly meeting, keep minutes, send out tax bills, have a mayor and a clerk.
In late December 1990, the lease on the office space on the traffic circle expired, and so the meeting scheduled for the following week had to take place somewhere else. The mayor thought she had secured the assembly room in the County Center (still in the Village), but when they got there, they found it occupied by an AA Meeting. So they met in a small room down the hall.
Before the meeting began, the mayor circulated papers that showed that for the upcoming invisible year of 1991, the village would have a budget of $23,000 but a shortfall of $14,000. They would be discussing that.
But first they had to start the meeting, which meant standing up and with hand over heart, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Unfortunately there was no flag. So, instead, one of the attendees took off his New York Giants football jacket and hung it on a hook at the front. It was red, white and blue. So they pledged their allegiance to that.
Thus, on December 31, 1991 did the Village of Pine Valley die an agonizing death, and it remains in Southampton Town today.