- The Principi family has been given the go-ahead to hold a charity concert to benefit South Fork food pantries this summer on their bucolic farmland that fronts the Montauk Highway in Amagansett. The event, currently scheduled for Monday, Aug. 3 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., is expected to draw crowds of up to 4,000 people, which has caused some consternation among the hamlet's residents who see this as a preamble to summers filled with noisy, raucous events in the heart of Amagansett.
John Kowalenko of the Art of Eating, explaining potential traffic routes to the Town Board and members of ACAC at the board's June 2 meeting.
Yvonne Principi-Velasquez and her brother Richard Principi joined together with John Kowalenko
of the Art of Eating
event planning and catering company to devise a way to support the local food pantries, which are in dire straights under the weight of difficult economic times. As unemployment rises and charitable giving dwindles, pantries in East Hampton, Montauk and Sag Harbor are trying to service hundreds of families in need on the East End with limited resources.
Kowalenko proposed a music festival to help supplement the pantries, similar to events he has coordinated in the past for the same cause, like the "Back at the Ranch" concert at Deep Hollow in Montauk last summer, a 10,000-person concert at Southampton College and "Ladles of Love," which raised funds for the East Hampton food pantry
in the Art of Eating
parking lot this past winter. Kowalenko submitted an application for the event to the East Hampton Town Board on April 15, though it was caught up in a number of other mass gathering applications for the property, such as a weekly drive-in movie showing for the summer and an art exhibition in the barn, which Principi-Velasquez is transforming into a studio and gallery.
The town board approved of the art show and a single movie showing at their May 19 work session, though the possible effects of a 4,000-person event on the local community gave them considerable pause. "I'd be more amenable to discussing the concert issue," rather than rejecting it outright, Supervisor William McGintee offered, "because it's a one-shot deal and those issues can be worked out."
While the board was hesitant to approve the concert, several directors of local food pantries attended the June 2 work session in Montauk to plead for the cause. "This proposed fundraiser is so important for us," Sag Harbor food pantry treasurer Jack Reiser asserted, "We have more families to feed and we're getting less funding to feed them."
Members of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee (ACAC) and concerned residents discussed the proposed concert during the committee's meeting on Monday, June 8.
"It's really not about the food pantry," Town Councilman Pete Hammerle clarified, as the pantries are surely a worthy cause. "Just so you know, there's a need," Reiser explained.
"I would consider this one event." McGintee maintained. "With the downturn in the economy, this helps the food pantry."
Members of Amagansett's community groups attended the afternoon portion of the June 2 work session, including Rona Klopman and Kent Miller, the chair and vice-chair of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee (ACAC), and Alan Klopman, a member of both the ACAC and the Amagansett East Association, which represents 300 homes in the area surrounding the Principi property. "Access from our community is going to be severely restricted," Alan Klopman asserted, worried primarily about problems due to congestion.
"They can handle the traffic," McGintee insisted, deferring to Police Chief Todd Sarris, who was also on hand during the discussion on June 2. "There will be a traffic impact," Sarris conceded, though "it won't be anything we can't handle." With the extra turning lane in the center of Route 27, running along the south side of the property, police will be able to set up three separate lanes of travel, diverting thru-traffic around the 2,000 vehicles expected to arrive. The event was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., however Kowalenko offered to open the gates as early as 3 p.m. if it would help alleviate some of the congestion.
Richard Principi showing his original plans for the Principi compound: The Ocean View Club and Winery.
The 26-acre property has ample parking for the event and three access roads for ingress and egress that should help to mitigate long delays before and after the show.
"We've never had a problem with their company," East Hampton Town Fire Marshal Mike Johnson asserted of past events coordinated by Kowalenko and the Art of Eating, and "four thousand people really isn't that many people," he claimed. Chief Sarris estimated the police involvement would cost approximately $3,000 and Johnson's department's services would be $1,300.
With most of the clerical and organizational issues worked out, the Town Board requested that Rona Klopman take the issue to the monthly meeting of the ACAC on Monday, June 8 to hear from representatives of the community. Close to 50 Amagansett residents, including some 20 committee members, packed into a room in the basement of the Amagansett Free Library on Main Street, to discuss the proposal.
Setting A Precedent
"The town is very interested in the Amagansett Citizens' Committee's decision on this," Klopman informed the members, giving the floor over to Kowalenko to explain his proposal. "I've been looking for a location like this for a number of years," Kowalenko asserted, insisting that the Principi property is the perfect venue for the charity concert. The favorable location, however, is one of the main worries for those in the community. "How often is this going to be done?" one neighborhood resident wanted to know. "I live two blocks away."
"There is a discussion with the owners about turning this into a semi-public facility," Town Councilman Brad Loewen, who is the board liaison to the ACAC, explained. Semi-public facilities, such as schools, museums and churches, are privately owned and operated, yet generally utilized for public use.
Yvonne Principi-Velasquez has transformed the horse barn into an art gallery, where she plans to begin hosting shows.
Richard Principi, the property's owner, is currently in talks with the East Hampton Planning Department about the application process for obtaining semi-public status. Principi has plans to transform the property into an environmental technology and cultural center, including his sister's renovation of the horse barn into an art gallery, several villas for housing artists and a solar power farm using the innovative targeted-solar technology proposed for the town's landfill, for which Principi is one of the primary financiers. The proposal is still in a preliminary stage, however, and has yet to come to the attention of the town Planning Board, according to Chairwoman Sylvia Overby, who is also a member of the ACAC and was present at the June 8 meeting.
The "family compound," as Principi called it during an interview on June 9, is currently used for storing equipment for his landscaping business, which is also used for maintaining the property and a young vineyard, which fit nicely into Principi's original plan to turn the grounds into the "Ocean View Club and Winery at Principi Vineyards." If Principi is denied the semi-public status for cultural events, he will likely go back to his plans for a destination vineyard, though he seems to enjoy the idea of creating a "cultural incubator."
The scenic vista that the ranch presents to passersby won't be affected, he assured, planning to place the solar farm, designed to keep the grounds to a near carbon-neutral footprint, in a sunken area to the rear along where the Long Island Railroad tracks mark the property line.
In addition to providing the artists' sanctuaries and the gallery, Principi plans to host events on the property in the future, if the town allows it, explaining that the events would be designed in such as way that "they would give back to the community," he added. Kowalenko's concert for the pantries is the perfect test-run for gauging the property's viability as that sort of venue. "It's supporting something that we all believe in and the site can support it," Principi argued.
Back At The ACAC
ACAC member and representative of the Amagansett East
Association Alan Klopman voiced serious concerns about the effects the concert will have on the surrounding community, yet was willing to approve this one-time event.
"I understand that the town board wants to hear from the ACAC about how we feel as a community about this project," committee member and Co-Chair of the East Hampton Democratic Party Betty Mazur commented. "What I'm hearing is that everyone agrees that the charity is a noble one and needy," she gathered, while also acknowledging members' concerns about setting a precedent for future use. "In order to convey our feelings, I'd like to propose a motion that this be a one-time use of this property and a one-time event in order to help fill the coffers of the pantries," Mazur offered. "I think we can agree that there doesn't seem to be any problem with the cause, but the fact that, in the future, this might be an excuse or a reason for the property owners to repeat this kind of event."
Several members of the ACAC were more concerned with the ramifications of this particular concert than potential future events. "I think it's a little naive to believe that cars coming into this event are going to be searched for alcohol," member Alan Klopman asserted, though Kowalenko vowed that there would be no alcohol available other than beer and wine restricted to persons admitted to the VIP tent. "The other thing is, in looking at the plan, it's just going to make the whole area a stop-and-go," he argued. "That said, I do it with some concern, but I would support this only as a one-time thing."
The concert would likely be held to the rear of the property,
near the railroad tracks. The young sprouts of Principi's vineyard can be seen in the foreground.
"We have a parking expert and a safety expert," Kowalenko assured, trying to assuage the ACAC's fears of a congested mess on the busy highway."The overtime for police, EMTs, the fire marshal - those are all costs we're going to assume."
Expenses for the event are projected to run around $250,000, according to Kowalenko, who expects to net approximately $100,000 for the pantries if turnout is high. "I'm trying to expand this concept and make it an event that the entire community is going to benefit from," he asserted, promising to keep the books open throughout the process and supply a "profit-and-loss analysis after the event."
"What if you don't make costs?" Chairwoman Klopman asked. "Then, as a businessperson, I'll have to deal with that," Kowalenko reasoned. A number of committee members also expressed concern with the fact that Kowalenko is not a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit. Kowalenko stated that all of the proceeds are going to be run through Bridgehampton National Bank
, who will be selling tickets to the concert at their branch locations, however if it would set the committee's collective mind at ease, "I can run it through a 501(c)(3)," he assented.
"We can use this as guidance for the future," ACAC member and GOP candidate for town board Dominick Stanzione
contended, urging the committee to vote on Mazur's motion to "approve this one-time event, intended to meet the dire emergency faced by food pantries on the East End." Of the 24 committee members, only two voted in opposition, with two abstaining.
Councilman Loewen presented the ACAC's resolution to the town board during their June 9 work session. "They're for it this one time," Loewen relayed to the council members, "and at this point I think that I'd like to see it go forward, too," he asserted, now that the board's "got the last thing, this approval from ACAC." The board has yet to vote on a resolution approving the concert, however there is a consensus among its members that it should move forward.
As for future events on the property, "I think each one should be based on its merits," Councilman Hammerle claimed, adding that, with Principi in discussions to designate the property semi-public, "I'd like to see that happen before we see any more applications on this property."