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Hamptons neighbors' tug-of-war over woodland sparks lawsuit

Two Hamptons neighbors are laying claim to a patch of woods abutting their homes, with one trying to turn it into a preserve and the other eyeing it for a future housing development.

That's the situation presented in a lawsuit by Amagansett resident Alexander Peters, who is fighting his neighbor to sell the 7 acres of hilly beech woods to the Town of East Hampton's land-preservation program for $3.6 million.

Peters owns the land, but his neighbor, who previously owned it, has right of first refusal and his family won't sign off on the sale, according to the lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court in Riverhead on Thursday.

Peters says the neighbor, Richard Smolian, wants to preserve the land but his son, Jonathan Smolian, is blocking the sale because he wants to buy the property himself and develop it.

The land sits above the Stony Hill Aquifer, the primary source of drinking water for the hamlets of Springs, Amagansett and Montauk — an area Peters has fought to protect from development as president of the environmental group Amagansett Springs Aquifer Protection.

"The greed of one family wants to poison the water of 50,000 people," Peters, 58, said in an interview Saturday. "It's just astonishing."

The Smolians did not return calls seeking comment. Court files included a document showing Richard Smolian had waived his right of first refusal, but his wife and two children had not.

Peters bought the two parcels of wooded land from the Smolians in 1992 and 1997.

Actor Alec Baldwin, an Amagansett resident who has supported land preservation on the East End, joined environmentalists in a Nov. 12 letter to Jonathan Smolian, urging him to approve the sale.

"It's an outrage that the clean drinking water of two-thirds of East Hampton is threatened by greed," Baldwin said in a statement. "We must stop reckless development of the Stony Hill Aquifer."

Peters said in his lawsuit that he offered to pay the family $100,000 for them to waive their rights of first refusal.

But Jonathan Smolian responded in an email, a copy of which is included in the lawsuit, that the amount was unacceptable. "The loss to me and my partners would be far too substantial to decline the purchase," he wrote.

Peters is now arguing in the suit that Jonathan Smolian does not have the authority to block the sale because the right of refusal is limited to Richard Smolian.

The East Hampton Town Board voted 5-0 in June to buy Peters' land using its Community Preservation Fund, an account funded by a special tax on real estate transfers.

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