The poodle-toting, “leather daddy” architect Peter Marino has never shied away from controversy. The designer known for his Gucci, Chanel, and Louis Vuitton flagships has been sued multiple times by employees. In 2019, Marino was named in Jeffrey Epstein’s “black book” along with other design notables.
This week, Marino finds himself in the middle of a Dickensian drama one might stumble across someday watching Real Housewives of New York.
Billionaire John Paulson, an investment banker who earned his fortune “shorting the housing market” in 2007, announced recently that he’s offering to sell off parts of his 10-acre Old Trees estate in Southampton, New York for $13 million to the Lake Agawam Conservancy. The 13-acre site edges the scenic Agawam Lake and would be repurposed for a new public park to be designed by Marino. A link to the full August 22 presentation to the Southampton Board of Trustees can be found here.
Before Paulson bought the land, developers wanted to build a new luxury mansion on the last remaining parcel of developable estate edging Lake Agawam. Amid mounting development pressures, Paulson stepped in, acquired the waterfront property, and “preserved the option” to build a park there. Today, the Lake Agawam Conservancy, Paulson, and Marino want to bring the public back to the lake. AECOM has also been named as a design partner that would build state-of-the-art water treatment facilities at Lake Agawam to make it safe for swimming and recreation.
The antagonists in this story aren’t the usual suspects. The town of Southampton came out with a vengeance on August 22 to stop the park from happening. Apparently, the less wealthy, still upper-echelon community of Southampton—home to the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Matt Lauer, and Kelly Ripa—has no need for the Marino/Paulson park and is troubled by what the new lake oasis could mean for traffic.
“People from all walks of life use Central Park, so it makes sense to invest in it,” one local told reporters, “but everyone in Southampton has their own grounds . . . There’s the beautiful beach. It just doesn’t make sense to create problems to build a public park. Southampton is the last place that needs a public park. There’s already a park in Southampton and nobody uses it,” they continued.
The Hamptons have a history of fighting public works that arguably dates back to the time of Robert Moses when he made a name for himself in the 1920s thwarting Long Island’s robber barons to build highways connected to his beaches. Page Six reported that as of August 28, “some 1,500 people had signed a petition against” the park project. In 2022, Southampton started another petition to prevent affordable housing from getting built in two “open space” sites; it was signed by 1,487 Southamptonites.
Chuck Scarborough, an official from the Lake Agawam Conservancy, said at the August 22 town meeting that the new park “could be a very transformative moment in the history of this village. Historically, Lake Agawam was at the center of village life,” in Southampton, he said. Scarborough noted that in the past 150 years, an overload of pollutants and development encroached on the water, rendering it the “second most polluted lake” in the state of New York.
The design by Marino would deliver a “world-class garden” to Southampton and triple the size of the existing park, Scarborough said, giving a quarter mile of public shoreline back to the people. Amid significant community opposition, the project is still in its nascent planning stages. The Conservancy, Paulson, and Marino will begin the process of public engagement for the future park’s design in the months ahead.