The Hamptons are beautiful and all, but lately, they are a source of great comic material. What else is there to do but laugh when wealthy, powerful men from the city buy vast parcels of country land, then somehow manage to clash with neighbors whose homes are several acres away?
Real estate developer David Walentas certainly sounded amused by the perennial, escalating clash between the Bridgehampton Polo Club, which plays its matches on Mr. Walentas’ nearly 120-acre Bridgehampton property, and his neighbor, real estate broker Edward S. Gordon, whose land, Three Ponds, is known for its private six-hole golf course.
Mr. Gordon would like to put an end to the polo, because, as his attorney Judd Burstein wrote in a recent letter to local officials, the noise, crowds and dust from Mr. Walentas’ property, which is called Two Trees Stables, are preventing him from enjoying his land.
“Certainly, Eddie Gordon harassing us over polo is not serious stuff,” Mr. Walentas said by phone from his Brooklyn office, where he is developing a large portion of Brooklyn’s Dumbo area into commercial and residential properties. His voice made him sound like a sunnier Charles Grodin. “It’s not important. It’s not going to matter in a hundred years.”
For Mr. Gordon, it is important enough to involve lawyers and at least one lawsuit. Since 1995, the Bridgehampton Polo Club, whose partners include entrepreneur Neil Hirsch and newsprint manufacturer Peter Brant, has played its six-weekend season of high-goal polo on a field constructed on Two Trees Stables. This year the season will take place on Saturdays, July 17 through Aug. 21. According to Mr. Hirsch, every spring Mr. Gordon has, in some manner, challenged the permit, issued by Southampton Town, which allows Bridgehampton Polo to conduct its games on Mr. Walentas’ property. “It’s the same story every year,” said an annoyed-sounding Mr. Hirsch. A story that inevitably ends with Bridgehampton Polo getting its permit. Neither Mr. Gordon nor his attorney Mr. Burstein would comment for this article.
In the months leading up to this year’s season, Mr. Gordon seems to have stepped up his efforts. Last December, Mr. Gordon and his wife, Cheryl Gordon, sued Bridgehampton Polo Inc. and Mercedes-Benz of North America, which is the title sponsor of Bridgehampton Polo events, in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. The attorneys handling the case were Jay Goldberg and Mr. Burstein, lawyers noted for their criminal defense work. The suit was discontinued in May, but on June 10, Mr. Burstein sent a letter to Southampton Town Supervisor Vincent Cannuscio that sought to “further document Mr. Gordon’s opposition” to the polo club’s application for a special events permits.
Mr. Burstein wrote that Mr. Gordon’s beef “is based upon Bridgehampton Polo’s historic, chronic, and egregious violations of both the town code and the permit restrictions that this board has imposed upon these events in the past.” In addition to alleged sound and attendance violations, Mr. Burstein wrote that “the circus atmosphere attendant to these overcrowded events gives rise to foul odors, air pollution, as well as offensive sights, and despoilage of Mr. Gordon’s lawns and shrubbery through human and animal waste, as well as litter.”
Mr. Burstein’s letter goes on to detail how, in “an effort to prove that Bridgehampton Polo routinely flouts this board’s edicts and the town code (not to mention basic civility),” Mr. Gordon had hired a firm called Inter-Science Research Associates to conduct noise and traffic reports of the 1998 polo season. According to Mr. Burstein, there were times when Bridgehampton Polo had more than double the allowable 800 people on the site, and times when the noise levels, taken from the fence line of Mr. Gordon’s property, exceeded the allowable 65-decibel limit by almost 30 decibels (a more than 100-fold increase in sound, according to the court papers).
Yet, perhaps the most potentially embarrassing allegation raised by Mr. Burstein’s letter has to do with local charities. When it comes to events held in the area governed by the Town of Southampton, the town board has always encouraged the event organizers to contribute to local charities. Mr. Burstein noted that, “In 1998, despite six weekend events with thousands of spectators and well-heeled sponsors”–in addition to Mercedes-Benz, Jaeger-LeCoultre will be a sponsor this year–”a mere $1,500 was donated locally, divided among three separate charities. In other words, 3 charities each received a mere token gift of $500.”
Mr. Burstein went on to write, “Mr. Gordon has authorized us to state clearly for the record that he will donate $5,000 to local charities– i.e. more than three times Bridgehampton Polo’s paltry 1998 donations–if the board will only deny these permits, and enforce his rights as a homeowner.”
Bridgehampton Polo’s general manager, Leighton Jordan, told The Transom that the club has indeed donated the day’s proceeds to a number of charities over the past years, including Sean (Puffy) Combs’ Daddy’s House, which, he said, raised $240,000; Hale House; and Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. When it was pointed out that none of these charities appeared to be local charities, Mr. Jordan said, “We would welcome local charities if they want to do a sponsorship or a fund-raiser [with us].” Mr. Jordan, who was on a conference call with a publicist for the polo club, Lauren London, said that Bridgehampton Polo is currently a money-losing venture. Ms. London added, “Neil Hirsch and Peter Brant are covering the costs of its existence”; she estimated that the losses were in the “tens of thousands of dollars.” Because of this, she said, “Anything that they choose to donate is in reality a personal donation” from Messrs. Hirsch and Brant.
Mr. Jordan told The Transom that he has met with Mr. Gordon to hear his objections over polo. “We’ve addressed every one of them,” he said, including hiring extra security, employing a water truck to minimize dust, and discussing moving the playing field. “I like him. He’s very easy to speak with. Unfortunately, he doesn’t want polo in his back yard, and he has the money and the wherewithal to create havoc with us.”
Mr. Walentas has a slightly different take on Mr. Gordon. “I think it’s that Eddie has a big ego and he likes to push people around.”
Mr. Walentas told The Transom that Mr. Gordon’s tone was considerably more pleasant when he came calling around 1994. Mr. Walentas’ and Mr. Gordon’s respective properties had once been one large farm, and, Mr. Walentas said, Mr. Gordon wanted to buy a key four-acre parcel from him. (One published report said that Mr. Gordon owns almost 95 acres, but Mr. Walentas estimated the size of Mr. Gordon’s property at closer to 50 acres.) “So Eddie came to me like my best friend. I said, ‘Eddie, you’re a pain in the ass.’” Mr. Walentas said that eventually he told Mr. Gordon, “Eddie, I’ll sell you the four acres because you need it, but here’s my plans. We’re going to put in polo fields and have polo matches. And I don’t want to hear from you. I want you to acknowledge that you’re not going to complain about it.”
As a result, Mr. Walentas said he got “a letter in writing” from Mr. Gordon acknowledging just that. Mr. Walentas was unable to provide a copy of this letter to The Transom by press time.
When the polo matches began, Mr. Walentas said he invited Mr. Gordon. “I said come and look at the girls. And enjoy the polo match. And see all the horses. It’s very civilized,” he said, likening it to a cocktail party that takes place from “4 to 6 every Saturday.”
Instead, Mr. Walentas said that Mr. Gordon “surreptitiously went and got all the neighbors to file a lawsuit. Then he funded it, like we didn’t know about it. Then he was bragging to everybody at the Atlantic Golf Club across the street. So he’s just jealous. He got his nose pushed in.”
So far, Mr. Gordon’s attempts to stop polo have been unsuccessful, and his latest attempt was not looking too good. The Town of Southampton board was slated to vote on the matter on the evening of June 22, and word in the Hamptons was that the permit was looking pretty good. Southampton Town Supervisor Vincent Cannuscio told The Transom, “I’m in favor of it. So, I think it’s going ahead.”
Asked why he thought Mr. Gordon has persisted in his efforts to stop polo, Mr. Walentas said: “Some people like to torture people.”
“It’s going nowhere,” Mr. Walentas said of Mr. Gordon’s attempts. “It’s too bad, but Eddie’s just a miserable old man, what can I say.”
Mr. Walentas then confirmed that last year he filed an application with the town to subdivide his land into smaller lots, which could then be developed into houses. “It’s a lot better to have horses than houses,” Mr. Walentas said. “If they don’t want horses, then somebody else can do the houses.” Then Mr. Walentas said he was contemplating building “30 golf-view lots right along Eddie’s property line.” He seemed to be joking.
Talk Party Miram-Axed By City
Vertical integration may be fraught with all sorts of political pitfalls, but it sure is good for publicity.
More than a month before the world was scheduled to see the first copy of Talk magazine, Tina Brown’s co-venture with Miramax Films, the world will be talking about it, thanks to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Days after published reports that Talk would be having its splashy Aug. 2 unveiling party at the Brooklyn Navy Yard site where Miramax, Robert De Niro and the city have tentatively agreed to build a movie studio complex, The Observer has learned that the city has nixed plans to use the site. And the city’s reason may have had much to do with a certain potential Senatorial race rival of Mr. Giuliani’s named Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Sources within Talk said the city had given the O.K. weeks ago to hold the soiree at the Navy Yard site, and that planners for the event, who include power publicist Nadine Johnson and floral designer Robert Isabell, had been to the site more than once to prepare.
But Deputy Mayor Randy Levine told The Transom no deal had been signed. When the Miramax people informed the city that they were interested in the Navy Yard site for the Talk party, “We said we would explore it,” Mr. Levine said. He added that Miramax wanted “onerous things,” such as the use of “fire boats.” Then, Mr. Levine explained, when city officials read news reports that Ms. Brown and Miramax were considering Mrs. Clinton for the cover of Talk , the city informed Miramax that it could not allow city space, especially a location with as many potential liability problems as the Navy Yard, be used for an event “that could be perceived as political in nature.”
Mr. Levine said the city’s rejection of Talk ‘s party plans had “absolutely nothing” to do with the fact that Mrs. Clinton may end up running against Mr. Giuliani. “If the Mayor were on the cover, we’d take the same position,” said Mr. Levine, adding that he didn’t know what the big deal was. “In fact [Miramax co-chairman] Harvey [Weinstein] called me last week and said they were finding a new venue.” Mr. Levine said he suspected the Miramax people were spinning this story, “in an attempt to gin up publicity.”
A source at the magazine disagreed, saying, “The city has politicized what is a purely festive and social occasion.”
The incident raises a question about the solidity of the Navy Yard film studio deal, given that Mr. Weinstein has long been an avid supporter of Mrs. Clinton and her husband. But Mr. Levine dismissed that issue as “immaterial. Harvey’s a valuable partner in the Navy Yard project,” he said.
Pino to Hamptons: So Luongo
Thirteen years ago, restaurateur Randy Gurley looked at a 1910 Tudor Mansion on Georgica Pond in Wainscott, L.I., as a possible site for a new Hamptons eatery that would complement Maya’s, the restaurant he and his wife, Maya Beuzelin Gurley, had opened outside the village of Gustavia on the island of St. Barthélemy. He ended up passing on the site and eventually it went to an up-and-comer named Pino Luongo, who called the place Sapore di Mare. Now, having become discreetly famous, along with his spouse, as their St. Barts restaurant has become a magnet for the rich-and-famous, Mr. Gurley is about to take a second crack at the Hamptons spot.
The Web site Ihamptons.com reports that Mr. and Mrs. Gurley have leased and are in the final stages of negotiating to buy the space that houses Sapore di Mare from Mr. Luongo and, within a few weeks, will open a Hamptons branch of Maya’s there.
Mr. Gurley told The Transom that he and his wife have been visiting the Hamptons socially for almost 20 years and that the area has always appealed to him. “I grew up out on Nantucket and I like it here because it’s the same sort of geography,” he said. He added that, “practically speaking, it’s a lot of the same clientele we have down there.” He said, however, that it has long been his policy not to publicize the names of his regulars. Mr. Gurley said that part of this protective instinct toward his customers springs from the fact that he and his wife have been in the restaurant business since “before there were people who wanted to be seen.”
Mr. Gurley said that Maya’s will probably have a soft opening around the beginning of July and an official opening “when we feel that everything is in order.” The restaurant will probably stay open until the end of October. In St. Barts, Maya’s menu is influenced by Creole and Caribbean cuisine, and Mrs. Gurley, who is a chef, changes it daily, based on the freshest items that local purveyors are offering. Mr. Gurley said that the Hamptons Maya’s menu is currently in development. “There will be hints of what we offer in St. Barts,” he said, “but we’re not going to copy the menu by any means.” As in St. Barts, Mrs. Gurley will be running the kitchen.
As for Mr. Luongo, he told Ihamptons that “The competition got big” in the Hamptons and that the seasonal nature of the restaurant business there “doesn’t allow us the time or energy to run a restaurant like Sapore.” He pointed out to the Web site that when he opened Sapore 11 years ago, he had only one other restaurant, Le Madri. Now, he has 16. While the luster of Sapore di Mare had faded in recent years and reservations were easy to come by, Ihamptons.com credits Mr. Luongo with essentially being a pioneer in the upscale Hamptons restaurant scene, which is now a crowded field that includes Nick & Toni’s, 95 School Street and Della Femina. Mr. Luongo did not return a phone call from The Transom.