Cover Story: Unique waterfront estate fully protected

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03/09/2012 9:00 AM |

TIM KELLY PHOTO | An aerial view of the two East Marion houses and Dam Pond waterfront protected under a deal struck between Oysterponds Historical Society and Peconic Land Trust.

When Sonja Stein bequeathed to the Oysterponds Historical Society her beloved 13-acre East Marion waterfront property — with not just one, but two grand old summer homes — she set just two conditions.

Ms. Stein, who summered in the area for many years, was adamant in expressing her desire to maintain the open lands and respect the homes’ historical integrity.

Mission accomplished.

This week, the historical society and the Peconic Land Trust announced a collaborative project to protect the property’s meadows and woodlands and close to a quarter-mile of Dam Pond shoreline. In addition, nearly three acres of untouched woods and waterfront will be added to the adjacent Ruth Oliva Preserve.

And while the society has yet to decide the eventual use of the two homes, which can be sold for private use, the easement in place assures that any structural changes will be in keeping with the style of that bygone era.

In all, it’s a $350,000 deal, money the society can invest in furthering its mission.

“This parcel is important to the Oysterponds community, a little jewel, and we feel really pleased to be preserving it,” said Ruth Ann Bramson, historical society president.

The German-born Ms. Stein became a seasonal East Marion resident in 1971 and later joined the historical society. She had no surviving relatives when she died at 82 in 2009. The Stein gift, made in 2011, was the largest in the society’s close to 70-year history.

“This is a big deal,” Ms. Bramson added.

“It really is a win-win-win,” said Peconic Land Trust vice president Tim Caufield. “It’s the best deal in town. You get to keep your land and you get some cash.”

The $350,000 came to the trust as a gift from the estate of J. Philip Anderegg through executor Arthur Tasker, a Greenport native. In 2009, Mr. Tasker provided funding to the trust for the acquisition of 19 acres along the Sound in Riverhead, property now called the Anderegg Preserve.

For its $350,000, the land trust takes full title to 2.7 acres of open space along the Stein property’s northern edge. That land abuts the Ruth Oliva Preserve, named for the former Town Board member and environmental activist who died in 2009.

Known for its many private land conservation projects, the Peconic Land Trust is rarely involved in historic preservation. Of the 100 or so open space protection projects the trust has completed all across the East End, only six include historic elements. That number now includes the Stein property.

“Both houses have already been changed and the renovations were not consistent with the style of the houses at the turn of the century,” said Mr. Caufield. “The easements allow for some renovations, but any changes must be done in a way that honors the historical style.”

In that regard the land trust follows U.S. Department of the Interior historic house preservation guidelines.

“We’re never going to see glass and steel McMansions there,” said Mr. Caufield.

The building on the property’s west side, known as the Ward house, dates back to 1896. The Reybine house, which faces Dam Pond, was built in 1900. Both are on the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities’ historic structures list.

Ms. Bramson said the land trust was the obvious choice as a project partner.

“While we own and maintain historic buildings, we are not experts in the conservation of open space,” she said. “We look forward to a long relationship with the trust.”

Ms. Stein’s gift does not require the society to retain ownership of the property. After announcing the gift last year Ms. Bramson noted that with the deed came a $22,000 property tax bill and maintenance costs. The funds realized in the land trust deal will help offset some of the “substantial” costs the historical society incurred in the transfer, Ms. Bramson added.

The society does not intend to add the site to its list of historic structures open to the public.

As for what will become of the houses, Ms. Bramson said, “We have a number of ideas,” though none has been finalized.

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