East Hampton Town officials will have to decide whether to approve a land deal that the applicant’s attorney said keeps a section of a popular hiking path open to the public in perpetuity, but that some contend benefits a former hedge fund billionaire and Amagansett property owner with no compensation to the town.
The property is a trailway flanked by two parcels on Cross Highway Drive in Amagansett and is a sliver of the 125-mile Paumanok Path hiking trail.
The owner of the Cross Highway Drive property, listed on the deed as Galaxy Group Investment LLC but identified in public hearings as Michael Novogratz, CEO of cryptocurrency firm Galaxy Investment Partners, has asked the town to abandon the trailway. In exchange, Novogratz would offer an easement keeping the trail open to hikers, cyclists, skiers and horseback riders during daylight hours, according to a copy of the proposed easement.
Galaxy Group purchased the 4.83-acre property earlier this year for $3 million, and the trailway would increase the buildable footprint on the land, Galaxy attorneys acknowledged at a Sept. 20 hearing.
It is unclear what rights the town has to the trail, which was laid out as a town road in 1914 but was never paved.
“The central question that is still being debated is who owns the property,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said during a Sept. 6 public hearing, the second of three hearings on the matter.
New York State’s real property law states that the owner of a so-called "paper" road created by the filing of a subdivision map may request that it be abandoned if after 20 years the road was never opened, was never made a public highway, is not used by the public and is not necessary for use of anyone with interest in the subdivision.
Town board critic and Springs resident David Buda, who opposes the deal, said that abandonment procedure should not apply to the trail, which he said was accepted as a public highway and has been used by the public for years.
Galaxy attorney Stephen Latham, a partner in Riverhead-based Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo LLP, disagreed.
“Abandonment is standard and it is proper and it is proper here,” he said at an Aug. 2 hearing.
Neither Van Scoyoc nor Latham responded to recent calls for comment.
David Gruber, a member of a splinter faction of local Democrats who last month lost a primary for a town board seat, said the town should take note that town Democratic Committee member Chris Kelley is a partner in Latham's firm.
"It raises the specter of improper trading of favors," Gruber said during a third public hearing on Sept. 20.
The town board closed the record following that hearing. Members said they will discuss the issue at an upcoming work session.