Past Exhibitions

The 1980s: The Decade We Almost Lost Orient

In the early nineteen-eighties, three situations combined to create a perfect storm of development on the North Fork:

1. Extremely inflated interest rates, as high as 16% on short-term loans, were driving farmers out of business.

2. Southold Town had an outdated code, with combined agricultural and residential zoning and few protections. A new Master Plan was supposed to have been in place by 1980, but work had not begun.

3. The North Fork had been discovered by developers as an affordable alternative to the overdeveloped South Fork.

“The Southold Planning Board has become a battleground”

New York Times, September, 1982

Orient became a major target of developers; by 1982, the Southold Planning Board was dealing with subdivision proposals for 620 acres in Orient.

Four applications, in particular, would have changed Orient forever:
1. Orient Point: a conference center in the old Orient Inn, and a complex of 125 condos with tennis courts and a pool on 44 acres.

2. Old Hallock Farm property: a “colonial village” of 55 houses on 67 acres on Narrow River Road.

3. “Potato Dock”: two private houses with private docks on Hallock’s Bay, on Narrow River Road.

4. Gid’s Island: a private estate in Hallock’s Bay.

These developments were vigorously opposed by the Orient villagers, the North Fork Environmental Council, the Baymen’s Association, and the fledgling Orient Association. The activists had one thing in their favor: the shallowest and most fragile supply of ground water on the North Fork.

Exhibit Items

The struggle became a race between application approvals for the developers on one side, and Southold town zoning reformation or public purchase on the other. It would take the better part of the decade. Before it ended, it involved the Southold Town Board, Planning Board, and Trustees; the New York State Department of State, Department of Health, and Department of Environmental Conservation; the Suffolk County Planning Department, Department of State and Department of Health Services; the Suffolk County Legislature, and three County Executives.

I am grateful to Anne Hopkins for sharing her file on the Orient Association, to Amy Folk and Bill McNaught for their generous professional assistance, and to Andrew Olsen and the folks at the Suffolk Times for their invaluable help with my research for this exhibition.

-Freddie Wachsberger

Sign-up for our newsletter