Down in the Flanders neighborhoods of Bay View Pines and Waters Edge, the past four years since Superstorm Sandy have been marked by a subtle change in the neighborhood.
At first, dumpsters appeared in the driveways of houses nearest the water in this low-lying neighborhood on the edge of Flanders and Reeves bays, filling with contents, carpets, sheetrock and insulation soaked by Sandy’s storm tide.
The dumpsters were followed by some signs of hope as families gathered again in their seaside cottages, planning to rebuild, raising their houses or preparing to put them on the market.
But over the course of the last year-and-a-half, houses have been disappearing throughout this mid-1950s subdivision, as they were purchased by New York State using federal FEMA money through the state’s Sandy recovery program, New York Rising, knocked down, and in many cases the titles to the land were transferred to Southampton Town.
The newly vacant lots punctuate this neighborhood of quarter and third-acre lots like missing teeth in a mouth that was once full, while those where homes still remain sit vacant — water and gas lines were shut off and cesspools were decommissioned in recent months, awaiting demolition crews.
The lots are posted with “No Hunting or Fishing” signs, though few of them are large enough or close enough to other vacant land for members of the public to even consider this type of recreation there.
Members of the Southampton Town Board mulled what to do with these properties at their Dec. 22 work session.
In all, 24 properties in the neighborhoods were purchased by the state through New York Rising, Bay View Pines Civic Association and Flanders, Riverside & Northampton Community Association President Ron Fisher told the town board, though the town has record of just the 16 of those properties it has taken title to.
Southampton Town Assistant Attorney Carl Benincasa said the town took title to those properties in October. He added that the state is still responsible for demolishing the houses on properties that have been transferred to the town within the next 18 months.
As of now, the town hasn’t made any plans for what to do with the lots, but the transfers of title from the state came with serious restrictions, said Mr. Benincasa.
The properties need to stay in the hands of government or charities whose mission includes land conservation and they can’t be built on or fenced. But they can be leased to neighbors, if those neighbors agree to allow the public to use them, and they can be used for agricultural cultivation.
Town Councilman John Bouvier said he’s heard from several neighbors of the properties who would like to take care of them, and asked the town board to consider a sort of Adopt-A-New-York-Rising property program for the neighborhood to help ease the burden on the town of maintaining the properties. He added that the community is also interested in growing community gardens on some of the lots.
Mr. Fisher said that New York State had hired a private security company to check on the properties three times a week, and had mowed the sites and kept them from overgrowing while they were in state hands. But now, he said, the town will be responsible for the upkeep.
“We don’t want them to become dumping grounds for leaves or other things,” he said.
“We have these properties that are a burden to the town. They will overgrow and become an eyesore to the community,” Mr. Bouvier told the board at their Dec. 22 work session. “Members of the community have an interest in maintaining them. My intent is to make sure they don’t add additional blight to the community. The neighbors are saying they’d like to do something.”
But Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman was wary of the proposal, wondering if it was appropriate for private individuals to care for public land.
“I would feel that if a neighboring property got use, there’s a value there that we couldn’t just give, even if they were maintaining it,” he said. “If they’re going to use it in a way that’s of benefit to them, they have to pay for that.”
“But we have to be careful if they’re doing something of value which could be damaged by a flood,” he said, adding that he’d prefer to see native vegetation planted on the sites instead of cultivated landscaping.
He added that he would also like to look into transferring the properties to the Town Trustees or The Nature Conservancy.
Mr. Schneiderman said some property on Fantasy Drive at the end of Long Neck Boulevard has already been transferred to the Town Trustees from Suffolk County in the wake of the storm.
Councilwoman Christine Scalera added that some of the properties closer to the water may need to be used for storm abatement in the future.
Mr. Fisher said his organizations have grants available to help grow native plantings on the lots.
Mr. Bouvier suggested the town map out the properties, along with their proposed uses, and meet with the community associations to discuss the ideal use for each parcel.
“To me, it seems like a win-win,” he said. “Our next step is to go to the community.”
“We need an overall plan,” said Ms. Scalera. “We can do this as part of the Reeves Bay Watershed Management Plan.”