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Oct 15, 2019 5:08 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Dispute Over Paper Road In Amagansett Billows Up Again

Oct 15, 2019 5:08 PM

Representatives of a billionaire family that owns several properties in the Devon area of Amagansett have tried to erase from county property maps an unpaved town roadway that forms a small portion of the Paumanok Path hiking trail — giving their client a larger area to build on — after the town declined to abandon the land last year, according to documents presented to the East Hampton Town Board this week by a Springs resident.

The resident, David Buda, said that he called attention to the matter with county officials, who, he said, have restored the roadway on county tax maps.

An attorney for property owner Michael Novogratz said, however, that research by a title company he hired shows that the “paper” roadway in question was actually never owned by the town and appears to have been drawn on maps over the last century only in error. He said that he filed a “correction” deed for the property with the county last winter that properly removed the paper roadway from the tax map.

“We’ve traced all the transfers and all of the boundaries, and the one thing I can tell you is, the paper road is not owned by the town,” attorney Stephen Latham, who represents Mr. Novogratz, said this week. “There was a county conveyance that was incomplete in the 1920s, and that’s when someone said there’s a paper road there, and so they assumed it was the boundary of the property.”

But Mr. Buda, a former attorney and frequent hawk regarding town dealings, says that it appears from historical documents that it is Mr. Latham and the title company that have seized on an “erroneous” deed from the 1920s — either in error or out of convenience — that omitted the existence of the roadway, and used it to try to redraw the property boundaries to suit their purposes.

Mr. Buda points to official town highway logs that detail Cross Highway being laid out between Cranberry Hole Road and Fresh Pond (Road) in 1914 and indicate that the owners of all lands through which the roads would be mapped had consented release of their lands to the town.

“When Mr. Novogratz bought the neighboring property from a neighbor, it was sold on the condition that the southern end not be built on — so that is what they are restricted to, unless they could change history,” Mr. Buda told members of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee on Monday night. “So they filed new deeds … and the county erased the road entirely — which just happens to solve all of Mr. Novogratz’s problems.”

Mr. Latham had presented a proposal to the town last year asking that the short stretch of never-built roadway be abandoned — a fairly common occurrence with roads that were drawn on maps long ago but never actually paved — so that the approximately half acre of land that the roadway’s boundaries constitute could be added to the 4.8-acre property that Mr. Novogratz owns at 58 Cross Highway East.

The town declined to grant the transfer because of concerns about the disposition of the Paumanok Path, among others.

Mr. Novogratz, a former hedge fund manager who now owns a cryptocurrency exchange company, also owns the 33-acre former Francis Fleetwood estate next door, along with other lots in the immediate vicinity, and has made plans to move the house that now stands on that property, designed and built by Mr. Fleetwood, to the 58 Cross Highway East parcel, and presumably to pursue new development of the larger estate property.

If the paper roadway remains in town ownership, as the town has assumed thus far, zoning requirements would pinch the usable space on the long but narrow Cross Highway East property to just 50 feet wide on much of its length and make situating the Fleetwood house difficult. But if roadway were to be erased, the available building envelope would be more than twice as wide.

Mr. Latham says that he does not think that the land being in the private ownership of Mr. Novogratz will affect the layout of the Paumanok Path running through the property. He said his client has never raised an issue with the path, since the concern with the paper roadway was always a simple matter of expanding the buildable area of the land.

“The trail is there — I haven’t talked to him about it, but he’s never indicated to me a desire to do anything about it,” Mr. Latham said. “This whole thing was about setbacks and orientation [of the house].”

Mr. Buda told Amagansett residents and the Town Board on Tuesday that after he presented county officials with his evidence that the paper roadway should remain, the tax maps were amended again, restoring the roadway as it has been shown over the last century. As he sees it, an error has been corrected. “At least all’s well that ends well,” he said on Tuesday morning.

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