Farmer John, whom I have met, wears a belt and suspenders. So you know that he is not a reckless character nor a bolshie. But he had recently spent 10 days in the local jail for not having got rid of a manure pile on his own property. It was his land, his manure, but the town said the thing stank and was an eyesore. There had been complaints. Farmer John was given time to repent. But in the end, he preferred to do time.
After all, he said, the land and the pile belonged to him and would, like the rest of us, eventually decompose. We are, after all, destined to be part of the cosmic compost heap.
Reporter Smith conveyed both Farmer John's intransigence and his sense of issues larger than town ordinances. And what, finally, is 10 days when measured against eternity? Out here in the Hamptons we do tend to philosophical bents.
But while Hamptons authorities were cracking down, and perhaps rightly so in the view of neighbors, on John White, several other local landowners were stirring controversy but would, it seemed at this writing, be getting away with their own variations on the farmer's manure pile.
You all have read, I suppose, of Renco Group CEO Ira Rennert, who on the beach of Sagoponack, is building a house far larger even than that of Bill Gates out in Washington state. The Rennert place, described as a family home, will be twice the size of the White House, have nearly 30 bedrooms and baths, two bowling alleys, two indoor tennis courts, 11 sitting rooms and two libraries. The main house will measure 66,000 square feet.
The fear is that Mr. Rennert isn't building this Taj Mahal for the family only but intends to turn it over to a religious group for eventual use as a seminary or residence of sorts. Vanity Fair is doing a story so you know this is serious business indeed.
But while master builder Rennert has been getting the ink, another example of architectural gigantism has come disturbingly to light. This case involves Tommy Mottola, the music industry power and former husband of Mariah Carey. As a front-page story in the East Hampton Star began:
"Neighbors of Thomas D. Mottola Jr. said they quietly bit their tongues last fall when the record industry mogul transformed one of the most prominent buildings on North Haven-the carriage house on Ferry Road just over the bridge from Sag Harbor that was once part of the Joseph Fahys estate-into yet another rambling Hamptons mansion.
"But now that Mr. Mottola, the chief executive of Sony Records, wants to build a 233- foot long dock that would jut out into the bay and allow him to moor Jet Skis, cigarette boats, and maybe even a seaplane, they have gone public in an effort to halt the project."
There was a hearing the other day at the North Haven Village Planning Board. Mr. Mottola had a lawyer there and so did the chap who's actually going to build the dock. This second lawyer raised eyebrows when he told the hearing, "Ultimately this comes down to Mr. Mottola's rights. Do they exist? I hope this is not a sociological issue. People object to things they don't have."
Some in the audience found this "an insult." And, it seems to me, not precisely the way to win friends and influence people in little North Haven, by telling them since they can't afford football- length docks, Tommy oughtn't to have one either.
And the objections were trotted out. "The goal is not to have a pier," said Carol Phillips, a neighbor. "It's inappropriate there. It's dangerous." "Aesthetically, it is out of scale to everything else in the area," said Jane Lane, the board's chair. Another neighbor, Martha Sutphen, said, "I don't want to be a crabby old lady saying things are changing and I don't like it. But . . ."
She was upset Tommy cut down a 150-year old linden tree and replaced a salt hay meadow with lawn. "I'm sure he's going to have parties. He has exotic friends. We can expect the stretch limos and the Mercedes jeeps and all that kind of stuff."
Because waterways and beach protection may be involved, the Army Corps of Engineers is also in the picture. While reference has been made to "troubles" Tommy and Mariah reportedly had at their earlier estate in Bedford, N.Y. Oh, yes, and over the Fourth of July weekend Puff Daddy had a big party. Is anything to be done? Says Carol Phillips, "There's no point bellyaching afterward. If we don't try to maintain what is lovely about this place, we're just being lazy."
And, unless their plans change, on the last weekend of this month, Bill and Hillary Clinton arrive in East Hampton, accompanied by lots of men wearing black. Yet so far this season, the only person out here who's done time has been Farmer John.