- In a complex deal that has left some local residents suspicious and upset, the East Hampton Town Board and Peconic Land Trust
signed a deal to purchase development rights to the Amagansett Farmers' Market which allows Eli Zabar to open shop there for the next three years.
Supervisor William McGintee displaying documentation of the Farmer's Market
agreement during the heated confrontation.
The controversial bargaining began on July 14 when the town board bought the development rights to the eight-acre Farmers' Market from Margaret de Cuevas, an affluent Amagansett resident before the ink dried on her deal to purchase the land from the original owner and long time operator Pat Struk.
The town will retain the rights to the farmland, while the Peconic Land Trust will oversee occupancy of the three-quarter-acre Farmers' Market. Eli Zabar, a New York City
gourmet purveyor of Eli's Manhattan, the Vinegar Factory and E.A.T., plans to lease the land from the trust and reopen the market by the first of August.
The complicated deal was the necessary result of a by-law that restricts the town from using the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) to buy land above the appraised market value. According to sources, Struk asked for well above market price for the land and threatened to put it on the open market which sparked de Cuevas to step in and purchase the 7.56 acres for $5.5 million.
The well-known market was purchased by de Cuevas but East Hampton Town and Peconic Land Trust will oversee occupancy. Photo by Eileen Casey
Earlier that day, de Cuevas sold the development rights to 26 acres of her family's land to the town for $4.38 million. de Cuevas then used that money, as well as over $1 million of her own, to buy the Farmers' Market from Struk.
The town paid de Cuevas another $2 million for the development rights to the eight acres of farmland behind the actual market, which was donated to the Peconic Land Trust by de Cuevas. All tallied, the deal will cost the town $6.38 million, to be spent out of the CPF coffers.
Elaine Jones, head of the East Hampton Independence Party, spoke in protest of the
The deal leaves de Cuevas with almost $1 million in the black and fundamental ownership of the land. Eli's hold an operator agreement to the market through Nov. 30, 2011. Contending that he will tap into local resources, Mr. Zabar, the youngest of three sons from the Manhattan food empire, owns a house in East Hampton. His wife, Devon Fredericks, founded Loaves and Fishes Market in Sagaponack.
Farmers And Jailbirds
On Thursday evening, July 17, the East Hampton Town Board meeting took a contentious turn as Town Supervisor William McGintee sat at the center of the dais before a room full of what appear to be eager antagonists.
In protest of the Farmer's Market deal, Montauk resident
and McGintee critic Rick King, donning a make-shift
McGintee mask, walked across the front of the town board
meeting room carrying a briefcase intentionally
overflowing with fake money, stamped 'CPF FUND.'
The evening began with a few residents who thanked the board for preserving the Amagansett Farmers' Market and McGintee thanked them in return for their support. Then in a sensational spectacle, a second McGintee appeared fresh from jailbreak.
Closer inspection exposed the new McGintee as a fraud of political jest, rather than a miraculous apparition.
As Elaine Jones, head of the East Hampton Independence Party, stood in protest of the acquisition, Montauk resident and McGintee critic Rick King, donning a make-shift McGintee mask, dressed in a striped jumpsuit reminiscent of old silent movies walked across the front of the room carrying a briefcase intentionally overflowing with fake money, stamped 'CPF FUND' across the front. Jones accused the board of using the CPF to bring in destructive outside forces, referencing the deal between the Peconic Land Trust and Eli Zabar.
Jones doesn't consider Zabar's operation appropriate as a farmers' market and worries that it will detract from local growers and small town shops. A long-standing fixture of Amagansett and points east, the farmer's market has enjoyed regional acclaim as the quintessential Hampton's experience of picking up coffee, a loaf of bread, homemade pies and local summer vegetables on lazy summer afternoons.
"It's hard to be a small business," Councilwoman Pat Mansir conceded, referring to second mortgages and difficult loan payments often necessary to keep them afloat. "Let's save what's left of mom and pop stores," she urged the board, "lets work together on this."
Jones accused McGintee and the board of brokering a deal with the de Cuevas family to siphon money from the Community Preservation Fund.
Councilwoman Pat Mansir questioned the arrangement struck by the
Peconic Land Trust allowing Eli's to lease the coveted space, lamenting
the loss of a key location to yet another New York based gourmet franchise.
McGintee responded by explaining to Jones that the decision to allow Zabar to lease the land was made by the Peconic Land Trust and assured those in attendance that the board had no voice in the deal. "Your information is incorrect," he told Jones, "you can do whatever you want with it."
"We intend to," she snapped back defiantly.
Protesters also cited an oddity on the certificate of occupancy that zones the parcel a 'retail farmers market,' a label that does not exist in the state code. Town Attorney John Jilnicki explained the strange wording as an attempt by Chief Building Inspector Donald Sharkey to describe the land's traditional use as best he could. If Sharkey had not created the abstract designation then the land would likely have been zoned as simply 'retail,' according to Jilnicki, which would open it to a host of other unintended uses.
The board denied any impropriety in the deal and moved on to the six public hearings scheduled that night, including the resolution to merge the Natural Resources Department into the Planning Department.
The theatrical protest was met with raucous applause and cheering from the audience while the newly sprung jailbird settled silently in the rear of the meeting hall for the remainder of Thursday's proceedings.