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Judge Rules In Favor of Artist Hope Sandrow in Lawsuit Against Developers

Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice William Rebolini ruled in favor of artist Hope Sandrow and the Shinnecock Neighbors—a group of residents living in close proximity to a Long Island area where developers plan to construct luxury townhouses—allowing their lawsuit, which challenges the development project, to move forward.

Sandrow and the Southampton resident group are asking the court to reverse the January 2015 rezoning of an area of the Shinnecock Canal. Reverting the area back to a resort waterfront business area from a residential area will shutter the plans of Gregg and Mitchell Rechler of Rechler Equity to build thirty-seven townhouses. The petitioners argue that the public and the environment will be adversely affected should the project continue.

According to the lawsuit, the developers are looking to build the townhouses along a shoreline that was designated by town planners and FEMA as a coastal erosion zone. The townhouses’ height of thirty-three feet is higher than what current building codes allow and the current proposal violates the 75- to 100-foot buffer that is required for construction along the protected South Shore Estuary Reserve.

The artist—who discusses her encounters with wildlife in Shinnecock Hills in a recent video—has often connected her practice to concerns regarding landscape, environments, and marginalization: Her project for Artforum’s Summer 1990 issue, Homeless Artist, depicted a Styrofoam cup in a subway setting, addressing a court ruling at the time that banned panhandling in New York City subways.

Sandrow’s recent complaint argued that the public will be stripped of seventeen boat slips, a foot path, and physical and visual access to the canal. Sandrow said, “We are fighting to preserve the essential quality of our neighborhood as well as that of the gateway to the East End.”

The artist, whose work has referenced and been inspired by environmental preservation concerns on East End since the 1980s, said that the “preservation of sensitive lands in the Shinnecock area is so important to me and my work. In 2006, I, together with local historians and preservationists, organized to join the efforts of the federally recognized Shinnecock Nation, in preserving ten acres of land of the historic estate Gissa Bu as part of the Community Preservation Fund.”

In the judge’s ruling on August 30, he acknowledged Sandrow’s concerns as a working artist. He said, “Hope Sandrow is a professional artist and art activist whose work focuses on nature, open space, and the protection of the wetlands; in the course of her work, she uses the Shinnecock Canal and requires access to it, and claims that the impact of the proposed development on her and her work will be profound because it will eliminate a prominent source of inspiration for the creativity at the heart of her work.”

His ruling concludes that Sandrow’s “use and enjoyment of the area is more intense than that of the general public and, therefore, that she may be directly harmed in a way different in kind and degree from others, the court finds [her allegations], sufficient to withstand dismissal . . . Like claims of specific environmental injury, injury to a petitioner’s aesthetic and environmental well-being, activities, pastimes, or desire to use and observe natural resources may also be found to state cognizable interests for purposes of standing.”

The developers have the opportunity to formally answer the judge’s decision, then the court will rule whether the initial zone change was legal.

Among Sandrow’s many works inspired by the Shinnecock area are the 1998 solo exhibition “Water Life,” which was shown at the Whitney Museum and at Philip Morris; “Godt Tegn” and “(Re)Collecting an American’s Dream,” which were exhibited respectively at MoMA PS1 and the Southampton Historical Museum from 2006 to 2007; and Genius Loci, 2013–14, which inaugurated the Platform series at the new Parrish Art Museum.