In Sagaponack there is the Madoo Conservancy. In East Hampton there is the Longhouse Reserve. And in Bridgehampton, off of Mitchell’s Lane, sits Bridge Gardens, a two-parcel five-acre property open to the public and owned by the Peconic Land Trust. According to Trust President John v.H. Halsey, these once private gardens were created and nurtured by residents, opened to the public, and then became their own not-for-profits or deeded over to an organization like the Trust to ensure their sustainability and availability to the community. For Halsey, these spaces also seem to fall into a “grey zone” in town code. In an effort to better categorize Bridge Gardens, the Trust hopes to change their certificate of occupancy from a residential property to a special exception usage to legitimize their public uses. “We are sort of an anomaly in the town code. We have to figure out what is the best way to codify these kinds of things,” Halsey remarked. What started as a discussion a year ago on installing a fence around the perimeter of the Gardens to deter deer, launched a conversation into changing the certificate of occupancy category of the property, Halsey added. By August of this year, the Trust noted a lack of parking at the site and sent a letter to the Southampton Town planning board announcing their intention to seek a special exception certificate of occupancy and approval to increase parking from three spaces to 16, with one additional handicap spot and two truck parking stations.
Above: A view of the medicinal section of the herb garden at Bridge Gardens in Bridgehampton.
At a pre-submission conference at the town planning board on Thursday, September 9, project manager Sara Gordon noted, “We are seeking simply to bring [the Gardens] into conformance with code for the uses that have been there historically and we have inherited.” Gordon said the Trust has been working with town planning board official Jackie Sherman-Smith, who has been advising Gordon on how to continue with the project. Gordon cited the mix of private and public uses of the property, from public viewings to events to workshops, adding that caretaker Rick Bogusch lives on site. Board member Jacqui Lofaro noted that the stretch of Mitchells Lane where the property sits is narrow and said parking is a challenge for the Trust. Gordon mentioned that the Trust hopes to widen the curb cut and added that the Hayground School has agreed to handle any overflow parking. Lofaro also inquired about the Trust’s plan for a non-disturbance buffer area that was cleared. Gordon noted that this section of land was damaged in a storm and said the Trust has a re-vegetation plan. The board members failed to mention any repercussions for the Trust’s current uses of the property. Closing the pre-submission hearing without public comment, board chairman Dennis Finnerty enacted a 30-day written comment period. In 2008, Butter Lane residents Jim Kilpatric and Harry Neyens donated the property to the Trust, said Gardens manager Bogusch. The property was once the site of an overgrown potato field, noted Bogusch on a tour of the Gardens. After Kilpatric and Neyens spent 20 years converting the land, The Gardens now feature an herb garden with over 180 plants, a garden featuring 800 types of antique and modern roses, animal topiaries, eight lavender beds, and a hidden bamboo room. Bogusch lives on the premises in a small one-story house, with a finished basement, which was once the site of a potato barn. During tours of the Gardens, Bogusch educates the public on the plants. For example, Bogusch noted, Jimson Weed which is planted in the herb garden is both poisonous but also used in medications to treat asthma. Indigo and sunflower are used as dyes and andrographis is used in place of echinacea in Scandinavian nations, added Bogusch. Halsey noted that the next step for the project is to wait out the comment period and meet with the town attorneys before submitting an official application.