Is it just me or is it pretty rare for a week to go by without a flora-related neighborly dispute? After perusing the MNN archives, I get the feeling it’s not just me. Generally, these headline-grabbing landscaping spats involve super-rich people, lawsuits, and sometimes, famous actors. Inevitably, a poor piece of shrubbery or tree is stuck in the middle.
Today, here’s a fresh dispute from the Hamptons, the storied summer colony where massive, fence-replacing hedges and privacy come hand in hand (and god forbid said hedges are overgrown). This particular story has all the classic ingredients of a primo Hamptons landscaping squabble: blocked views, irked neighbors, boatloads of money, and in an interesting (alleged) twist: revenge.
The drama started back in 2008 when Howard Lutnick, CEO of global investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald, attempted to build a big ol’ barn on his 40-acre Bridgehampton estate which, although private property, is a protected agricultural reserve maintained by taxpayer dollars. The neighbors freaked and banded together to thwart Lutnick’s plans to build the 300-foot barn out of fear that it would block their precious views of the reserve and be used to house his massive car collection. In his defense, Lutnick claimed that the barn would be used not for auto storage but for actual agricultural purposes as he had dreams of starting a private winery and fruit orchard on the land.
After nearly two years of complaints and a series of public hearings, the town blocked the potentially view-blocking project (Lutnick filed an appeal with the Suffolk County Supreme Court, which is still pending). So with his dreams of becoming a gentleman farmer dashed, Lutnick has now raised a massive, view-obstructing hedge instead of a barn on the southern edge of his property.
“This is definitely the revenge hedge!’’ outraged neighbor Beate Moore tells the New York Post. “He blocked everybody’s view!’’
The 10-foot-tall “revenge hedge," which apparently does indeed obstruct neighbors’ views of an orchard and field on the preserve, was erected by Lutnick over the summer. Considering how touchy Hamptons residents are about matters of hedges and views, you’d think Lutnick had a landscaping team swoop in overnight while the neighbors were sleeping.
Now, the hedge has been declared illegal by town officials and Lutnick has been ordered to relocate or remove it so that the neighbors can once again enjoy “the natural scenic beauty” in the words of Southampton Town planner Jacqueline S. Fenlon. That's not the offending hedge in question in the picture above but is a photo of real, honest-to-goodness Hamptons shrubbery.
I'm not quite sure what to make of this one considering that while this is Lutnick's private property, it's also a protected piece of land meant to also be enjoyed, visually at least, by the neighbors. Tricky. Is it a case of entitled rich guy doing whatever he pleases? Or a case of entitled rich neighbors causing an unnecessary ruckus?
Whatever the case may be, AOL Real Estate does point out that Lutnick, personal wealth and landscaping squabbles aside, isn't a totally nefarious character hell bent on enraging his well-heeled neighbors. He's actually a big-hearted guy: A tragic amount of Cantor Fitzgerald employees lost their lives — 658 in total including Lutnick's younger brother — during the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and, up until 2006, Lutnick donated 25 percent of his firm’s profits to the victims’ families while also providing health care to the families for 10 years. Lutnick was not in the office that day — he was taking his son to his first day of kindergarten.
MNN tease photo of hedge: Shutterstock