The Battle Over a Barnes & Noble in Bridgehampton

WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE AFTER STARBUCKS AND THE GAP? It’s hard to believe that Leonard Riggio and James Hopping are neighbors. Mr. Riggio is the chief executive and founder of Barnes & Noble, and his Bridgehampton mansion is a lush, stucco Architectural Digest number with a formal sculpture garden. Mr. Hopping, a retired real estate agent who is patriarch of an old Bridgehampton family, owns 5.6 acres overlooking Montauk Highway from the corner of Ocean Drive, punctuated by an abandoned Greek Revival–style mansion hidden by overgrown hedges, an empty barn and an old gas station.

Nevertheless, the two men have become comrades against Bridgehampton weekenders and locals alike who are up in arms over what they see as the malling of the Hamptons. Mr. Riggio has purchased property on Montauk Highway on the western end of town on which to build a shopping center anchored by a Barnes & Noble, and Mr. Hopping wants to sell his family property to a developer with the very same idea for the east end of town-bookend malls, critics say.

Mr. Riggio thinks he’d be doing the town a favor. “Have you seen my [horse farm in Water Mill]? Have you seen my house on Ocean Road? Then you’ll see what we’ll do with Barnes & Noble.”

But following the announcement of Mr. Riggio’s plans last November, the Southampton Town Board, which oversees the hamlet of Bridgehampton, imposed a year-long cease-development order in January and formed a committee to formally study the problems of traffic and overcommercialization. Mr. Hopping’s buyers, Developers Realty, unsuccessfully tried to get preliminary approval by presenting the Citizens Advisory Committee, a residents’ group, with a scaled-down proposal on June 12. Instead, the council requested that more studies be done.

Where to draw a line in the sand regarding development is a complicated question for Bridgehampton, the same town that welcomed the only Starbucks and the only mall in the Hamptons-the Bridgehampton Commons, which has a Banana Republic, a Williams-Sonoma, a K-Mart and a Gap-just six years ago. A further irony: It’s the Manhattanite, Mr. Riggio, whose development plan is looked upon more favorably by the community than that of the local, Mr. Hopping. Some say that Mr. Riggio just got his plan together first. Others say that it comes down to location: Mr. Hopping’s property is on the residential edge of town, while Mr. Riggio’s site is in an exclusively commercial zone.

The historic Hopping House has been a fixture of Bridgehampton since artist Nathaniel Rogers, famous for his mini-portraits, designed and built it in 1840. James Hopping, the latest inheritor, never lived there, but instead has used the property for minor commercial purposes. Years ago the underground gas tanks leaked due to neglect, and the land has been increasingly difficult to sell. After trying to do so for 10 years, Mr. Hopping signed an agreement to sell the land to Developers Realty, pending approval. The preliminary plan called for two one-story buildings joined by a brick plaza with a clock tower; the developers would demolish the house for 200 parking spaces.

The Citizens Advisory Committee of Bridgehampton formally opposed the plan in July 2000, and local residents wrote more than 500 letters of protest. The result was the Bridgehampton Preservation Alliance, a group aimed at limiting the spread of commercial development. To fight back, Developers Realty hired Anthony Tohill, the high-profile lawyer who represented Ira Rennert in his bid to build a château in Sagaponack. Mr. Tohill requested a zoning change, from residential half-acre lots to commercial lots. And on June 12, the realtors came before the C.A.C. again, scaling down the project by 20 percent and allowing for 10 smaller buildings, preservation of the Hopping House and 50 less parking spaces. But Edmund Davis, chair of the C.A.C., who lives on Ocean Road near the site, was dissatisfied. “We had asked for traffic data, and they told us they hadn’t started their traffic study,” he said.

City dwellers who weekend on Ocean Road have mixed feelings about having a mall on their street. Bill Rudin, the real-estate mogul who lives south of Mr. Riggio, said the Hopping House was ripe for development. “I think something needs to be done there; it’s so dilapidated as it is. They could renovate it and create something attractive, but obviously traffic concerns are going to be a problem.” But Keith Reinhardt, chief executive of DDB Needham Worldwide, who lives across the street from Mr. Rudin, was opposed to the idea. “What’s there now is an eyesore,” said Mr. Reinhardt. “But to me, that part of the village is already developed. To put a retail center in the heart of this little village would be wrong.”

Some store owners in Bridgehampton, though, would welcome the change. Patrick Vitlo, owner of Bridgehampton Ice Cream and Yogurt in the eastern part of the village, said, “Down here, we would like more retail development. It would bring people …. The [western] part of town already has the Chamber of Music, the Long Island Railroad station and the bank.”

Mr. Hopping said that a primary motivation is avoiding the steep inheritance tax, which forces real-estate inheritors to pay huge taxes on their property or sell. “The people here want to curtail the money I could make,” he said about the opposition. “The people who are protesting haven’t made as much money. It’s a lot of sour grapes. It’s not right. It’s not very American.”

Mr. Riggio’s plans date back to when he bought an old farm owned by the Tiska family, located across Montauk Highway from the Bridgehampton Commons, for $2 million in 1996. Next he acquired the 0.96-acre vacant lot adjacent to the farm for $1.075 million, and a 0.86-acre parcel where a restaurant once sat for $1.075 million in 1998. Last month, he acquired the last 0.69-acre piece-now Carvel ice cream-for $425,000. His plan calls for a 70,000-to 90,000-square-foot mall with retail stores, a coffee house, the bookstore and a single-row parking lot, but the size has not been approved.

Southampton Town Board member Steven Kenny said the town is in the process of adopting an overall zoning guideline as a way to control development, and that the new plan would be applied to both Mr. Riggio’s and Developers Realty’s proposals. “We’re going to have a public hearing coming up in the next few weeks and do a study of the area,” said Mr. Kenny. One possible outcome is to adopt the East Hampton town law prohibiting the development of any retail space over 10,000 square feet.

Maybe it will be a baby Barnes & Noble?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. ARCHITECT!

Philip Johnson sat in the Pool Room of the Four Seasons restaurant, which he had designed more than 40 years earlier, the glare of cameras and 96 birthday candles shedding a harsh light on his wizened face. It was July 11, his 95th birthday, and he was being straddled from behind by a man in a bright cobalt-blue suit, with a salt-and-pepper mustache and the kind of streetwise Italian-American accent that persists more vigorously in acting classes than on the streets of Soho. The man was real-estate mini-magnate Nino Vendome, and he was preaching about the 26-story “habitable sculpture” that Mr. Johnson designed and Mr. Vendome wants to build at 328 Spring Street.

It turned out that the birthday party was really for the building-never mind the fact that the developer is in a fierce battle with the neighborhood and the city over its height. Suddenly the building had a name-the Seasons-and its own history. There were model replicas and drawings of just this one Johnson building on every flat surface of the room, including the cake. And thanks to Rubenstein Public Relations, the room was filled with financial lenders, television crews, some reporters-even Tina Brown for 10 minutes or so-in an attempt to create some momentum.

So far Joseph Palumbi, director of real estate for Trinity Church, supports the building. Cooper Union president George Campbell Jr. wants to open an art and architecture gallery there. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority wants it to be “a showcase” green building. And Mr. Vendome is set to announce the name of a prominent restaurateur as the anchor tenant. He’s also wooing the local arts community with a temporary gallery and performance space.

Then there’s politics: Mr. Vendome will take his building to the Mayoral candidates, and he’ll grease palms and kiss babies all over Hudson Square-the neighborhood in which his family had settled after emigrating from Italy, and where he once ran Nino’s Pizza and Subs. “I’ll be knocking on every door,” he said.

All this despite the fact that Bureau of Standards and Appeals executive director Pasquale Pacifico told The Observer in an earlier interview that “there’s no way” the building will be built as is. That agency must grant a zoning variance to allow for its height.

There is still a contingency plan: Mr. Vendome is in talks with local authorities in Miami’s South Beach and in Rome to build the same basic Cubist shape. “This could be the Coliseum,” he said, pointing to one facet on a model of the building. “This could be St. Peter’s,” he pointed to another.

But it’s clear that Mr. Vendome wants it to be the Seasons in Soho.

UPPER EAST SIDE

LUCKY IN REAL ESTATE? Madhav Dhar, former head of emerging markets for Morgan Stanley, recently signed a contract to buy an eight-room apartment at 181 East 65th Street, near Third Avenue. Sources familiar with the deal say that Mr. Dhar won out in a bidding war with two other interested buyers. But brokers said that Mr. Dhar overpaid. Said one source: “Several rooms in the apartment face a brick wall.” The living room, the master bedroom and the master bath all face west; the five-bedroom apartment has an entry foyer, 10-foot ceilings and takes up half of the floor. Mr. Dhar left Morgan Stanley in the fall of 1998, after one of the groups he oversaw lost $300 million. But he made a hefty profit on the sale of two of his apartments at 25 Central Park West in the spring of 1999, selling them to Tommy Mottola for a total price that exceeded $6 million. According to a story in The Observer at the time, he’d paid less than $3 million for them. Since then Mr. Dhar, 40, and his wife Patty, 36, have been renting. Mr. Dhar runs a hedge fund called Traxis Management.

EAST HAMPTON

A SUMMER STREAK, WITH A $19 MILLION BENCHMARK It all started in March, when John Golden of Sotheby’s International Realty sold a $12 million home on Meadow Lane in Southampton to Henry Silverman, chief executive of Cendant Corporation, one of the world’s biggest hotel franchisers. Then, in May, Mr. Golden brokered the sale of Lee Radziwill’s East Hampton estate for $16.5 million to leveraged-buyout giant Thomas Lee. By late June, Mr. Golden was selling the oceanfront compound of the late Nixon-era Treasury Secretary William E. Simon to Fred Shuman, chairman of Archstone Partners, a money-management firm, for close to $19 million. With that, Mr. Golden had garnered the highest selling price in the Hamptons since Jerry Seinfeld bought Billy Joel’s house on Further Lane for almost $40 million last spring.

Mr. Simon’s compound went on the market for $25 million last winter. The price was reduced to $19 million a few months ago; brokers said it sold for a little less than the asking price. The property-located at the end of Windmill Lane, a private road off Further Lane-has almost 300 feet on the Atlantic Ocean and a windmill dating from 1802. It features a house, a guest house, a gunite pool and pool house, and another “cottage” where Mr. Simon had an office. Mr. Simon bought the property in 1976 for $541,000 and rebuilt it in 1980.

The Shumans immediately put their house on Cottage Lane in East Hampton on the market for $6.25 million with-who else?-Mr. Golden.

To reward himself, Mr. Golden bought a Ross Blechner painting earlier this month.

UPPER EAST SIDE

45 Sutton Place South

Two-bed, two-bath, 1,700-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $1.195 million. Selling: $1.195 million.

Charges: $2,057; 48 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: one week.

DON’T MESS WITH THE NEIGHBORS When she was given this apartment to sell, Sutton Place specialist Norma Hirsh of Douglas Elliman knew a retired couple living in the same building who wanted more space. They took a look and made a full-price offer. Because they were already living in the building, they had no trouble passing the co-op board, and the deal closed without a hitch on July 10.

CHELSEA

360 West 22nd Street

One-bed, one-bath, 750-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $399,000. Selling: $399,000.

Charges: $655; 55 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: one day.

GETTING MARRIED IS HARD TO DO The seller of this apartment had to give it up when she got married. The first day that Dan Gerstein of DG Neary Realty showed the place, a guy who’d been living in a studio in the neighborhood agreed to pay full price. Now, of course, the seller and her husband are looking to move out of his place and into a new apartment large enough for a family.