Gustavson Column: Changes in store for a favorite vista?

(Credit: Grant Parpan)
The view behind Latham’s farm stand in Orient. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

That rumbling you hear coming from out east is the sound of restless natives concerned about the future of one of the most iconic vistas on the East End — the one surrounding and behind Latham’s farm stand on the south side of Main Road in Orient. It represents the first view of Orient Harbor (and Shelter Island beyond) as you travel west through the hamlet, and the last view of the harbor as you travel east over the Orient-East Marion Causeway. And not since the flap more than a decade ago over the future of land bordering Dam Pond in East Marion have the natives in these parts been so restless about a vista.

At issue is a development plan submitted to the Town of Southold by the Tuthill Family Holding Company, whose managing directors are Reg, Ruth, Lyle and Carol Tuthill. They seek to create a conjoined conservation subdivision on four family-owned parcels in Orient, encompassing the so-called North and South Dyer parcels just east of Latham’s farm stand and the North and South Brown parcels about two miles farther east on Main Road.

(Note: Dyer and Brown are the names of the owners from whom the Tuthill family bought the four properties. Also, although the Lathams farm the property east and south of the farm stand, it is leased from the Tuthills.)

In a summary of the project submitted to the town, the Tuthills state: “In total this involves about 112 acres of which 23 acres are coastal and wetland areas with high scenic value. An additional 70 acres would be preserved of which 52 acres would continue to be farmed (98 percent of current farmed area). The remaining 17 acres would be split up among 17 lots plus the Right-of-Ways needed to support them, and one existing farm stand.”

Under normal circumstances, that might sound like a win-win proposition, but there are a couple of additional things you need to know.

The first is that by conjoining the parcels, the Tuthills are seeking to create five one-acre building lots on the South Dyer/farm stand parcel, one more than would be allowed if they sought a conservation subdivision and open development area on that parcel alone. (Note: Orient resident Earl Carter’s letter to the editor in last week’s issue of The Suffolk Times erroneously stated there would be a “seven-house subdivision” on the South Dyer parcel, while in fact only five new homes are sought under the proposal. But Mr. Carter is to be congratulated for being one of the first to call the public’s attention to this project.)

I inspected the property this week after studying the maps on file with the Southold Town planning department and it appears the only sight lines that would be appreciably affected by the construction of five new homes would be the west-facing views of the existing homes on the west side of Oysterponds Lane, which lies immediately east of the Tuthills’ property. And that’s because the five proposed building lots lie almost directly south of the existing Main Road home formerly owned by the Tuthill family’s late patriarch, Capt. John Tuthill. Traveling east to west, you really wouldn’t see any of the new homes, and traveling from the west you’d see buildings behind the farm field where you now see the backs of homes on Oysterponds Lane. In other words, it would not represent the sort of suburban sprawl vista that some fear.

But here’s another consideration. While the Tuthills’ submission to the town states: “… we expect little to no additional development of lots in the foreseeable future” and “We would like to take advantage of selling Development Rights to the Town if we can agree on the value of the rights we would give up,” to date the family has been deaf to suggestions that the Peconic Land Trust be brought into the mix to broker an agreement under which no new houses ever would be built on the South Dyer parcel.

The Tuthills’ response to that concern may well be summarized in the aforementioned document submitted to the town, which states that the family seeks to ensure that “we have a sufficient number of desirable building lots to pass down to family members.” (The last time I looked, Reg and Ruth Tuthill alone were coming up on numbering their grandchildren in the double digits.)

The bottom line here is that I don’t think the Tuthill Oysterponds Holding Company’s proposal is as onerous as it appeared to be at first blush. But neither do I think the Tuthills should dismiss, out of hand, the concept of bringing in the Peconic Land Trust to broker a deal with Southold Town under which Dyer South would be preserved in its present undeveloped state in perpetuity, just as the trust and town succeeded in preserving significant portions of Dam Pond at the turn of the last century.

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