By Victoria Faconti
A Hampton Bays man’s wish is coming true in the wake of his death. It was a dream of Harry B. Wehrmann to have his Hampton Bays property — a place he always called “tranquil” — become a public park celebrating the nature he enjoyed until his passing on April 9 at the age of 73.
Wehrmann, a native of Latvia, spent his summers in Southampton on Wehrmann pond with his adopted parents and brother. After retirement in 1992, Wehrmann moved to the family home and lived on the 12-acre property until his death last month.
On May 8, under the Community Preservation Fund (CPF), Wehrmann’s estate accepted Southampton Town Board’s offer to purchase the Wehrmann Pond.
The purchase price was not available as of press time as the deal has yet to officially close.
“The vision was to establish a town park around Wehrmann Pond as public land and establish a headquarters for the Peconic Baykeeper, Inc. – a philanthropic organization,” said Carolyn Zenk, an environmental attorney and former Southampton Town Councilwoman who helped Wehrmann with this deal. “Harry and I thought this approach would yield the greatest benefits for the public.”
The property is adjacent to acres of land Southampton Town already owns, according to Zenk.
“Harry intended that the park be used for passive recreation uses. He did not want noisy off-road vehicles or jet skis in the area. ‘Tranquility’ is the name he would tell me. ‘Tranquility’ is the goal’,” said Zenk.
Wehrmann had a vision for his land including the provision that his house must be used in a philanthropic way, otherwise it would be turned over to Southampton Town. Through Wehrmann’s will, his former home will become the headquarters for the Peconic Baykeeper, Inc., the not-for-profit organization led by baykeeper Kevin McAllister which devotes itself to keeping local bays clean and safe for fishing, swimming and recreation.
After watching the work of the baykeeper, Wehrmann wanted to help the organization in a meaningful way, said McAllister who estimates the process could take six to nine months before his office makes the official move to the property.
“This is going to benefit us immensely as the space is much larger and we will be able to invite the community out,” said McAllister.
“Mr. Wehrmann wanted to find an organization which was dedicated to fighting for protection of the area’s bays,” said Zenk. “Harry also wanted to help preserve the beauty and bounty of the bays that he loved so well. He found that organization in the Peconic Baykeeper.”
Wehrmann’s 12-acre property is mostly wooded, according to Zenk, and is located in the Red Creek Ridge area of Hampton Bays, off Upper Red Creek Road and across from Red Creek Pond — an open bay.
Zenk originally approached Southampton Town Board to purchase the entire property minus Harry Wehrmann’s house, which would eventually be given to the Baykeeper. However, the town board directed Wehrmann to instead subdivide the property into two lots. The first 10-acre lot containing Wehrmann Pond is what is being purchased by the town, with the adjacent parcel donated to the Peconic Baykeeper.
According to Zenk, there are still a number of approvals needed before Wehrmann’s dream will actually become a reality.
“While we have accepted the town’s offer to purchase Wehrmann Pond, closing documents must be signed, a public hearing must be held and the town board must give a final approval,” she said.
The Southampton Town Planning Board must also allow a change of use on the property from residential to philanthropic before the Peconic Baykeeper can truly call the Wehrmann house its new headquarters.
“We have every confidence that town officials will see Harry Wehrmann’s dying wishes come true and that they will help establish a beautiful park for town residents and a memorial to the entire Wehrmann family for all time,” said Zenk. “We hope that other residents will follow Mr. Wehrmann’s example and consider donating land or houses worthy of not-for-profit organizations, such as the Group for the East End, The Nature Conservancy, The Peconic Land Trust, and the Peconic Baykeeper, Inc. These not-for-profit organizations have worked long and hard to preserve the quality of our lives; they deserve our support.”