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Aug 28, 2013 10:03 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Panel Will Explore If Southampton Town Should Buy Development Rights To Fund Farm Purchases

Aug 29, 2013 4:57 PM

An ongoing dispute over whether Southampton Town should consider using land preservation money to protect properties already owned by conservation groups brought together a collection of some of the most important names in the long history of land preservation on the East End last week.

Town and state politicians, farmers and farming advocates, and the heaviest hitters in the conservation community gathered at Town Hall on Friday afternoon. It was the first of what organizers avowed would be several meetings on the topic in the coming months, needed to hash out how the town’s bountiful land preservation funds should be spent in the future.

At issue is a proposal for the town to purchase the development rights to 14 acres in Bridgehampton that was given decades earlier to the South Fork Land Foundation. The money, likely several million dollars according to appraisals, would then be put toward the purchase by the Peconic Land Trust of farms that have already had their development rights purchased. Those farms would then, in turn, be sold to farmers at prices far below market rates, which have been inflated in recent years by the growing demand for horse farms, which are legally considered agriculture.

The Peconic Land Trust has said such deals are needed now, and in the future, because the demand for land that has already been protected from residential development, and earmarked for agricultural uses, has pushed its value to $100,000 an acre or more, and out of the reach of farmers.

Critics of this idea say that buying land from publicly avowed conservation groups would cast those organizations’ stated missions in a different light, and could compromise public confidence in the Community Preservation Fund program in general. They have also questioned whether opening the door to such deals would bring other conservation groups to the table with acreage that they own, in search of tapping the robust CPF coffers for additional funding, thereby hampering efforts to take more privately held land off the development table.

“Whether any town should be acquiring lands from not-for-profit organizations is the issue,” said State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., one of the authors of the CPF legislation in the late 1990s. “The town should be looking at whether or not ... [these groups] should be treated no differently than if they were any other landowner in the town.

“The other end, as I see it, is that the conservation organizations are doing the same thing the town is doing, and the town shouldn’t be buying anything,” he continued.

Peconic Land Trust President John v.H. Halsey said it is hard to separate the two issues. “Why are we here? It’s about preserving community character,” he said of the initial intentions of the CPF program. “Is it just about open space or is it about agriculture itself? For me, this is about preserving farmland for farmers.”

When the CPF and a variety of land preservation funds that preceded it were created, their stated intentions were to preserve open space for the sake of protecting both undisturbed aquifer recharge areas and farming. But over the last 20 years, legal interpretations of land preserved for “agriculture” have come to include a variety of uses, including horse farms that can typically have thousands of square feet of development.

A recently constructed horse farm owned by “Today Show” host Matt Lauer includes nearly 60,000 square feet of buildings and two houses on land that the town spent more than $3 million to preserve from development. Because of this potential for development, some protected lands have sold for upward of $100,000 an acre.

Mr. Halsey’s group has proposed selling the development rights to 34 acres in Bridgehampton to the town. The land was given to an adjunct organization, the South Fork Land Foundation, in the 1970s by Ronald Lauder, who reaped large tax benefits for donating the land with its development rights still intact. The group said it would use the money to purchase hundreds of more acres of already protected land that would then be sold back to working farm families at bargain prices.

Others sitting on the 15-person panel said the CPF cannot be expected to solve the mounting problems facing farmers on the East End, nor could it if that was the intention.

“We still have 900 acres of farmland left that is not owned by conservation organizations,” said Paul Brennan, a real estate agent from Bridgehampton who also sits on the town’s CPF advisory committee. “We have to get that done first. We can’t stop now and say we want the PLT to give us a list.”

Bob DeLuca, the president of the Group for the East End, which led the charge for the creation of the CPF and preservation of open space in the 1980s and 1990s, said the town should complete a full inventory and accounting of its land preservation abilities. Cataloging the land now left in private hands, and listing the town’s needs or wants when it comes to protecting properties owned by conservations groups but which still have their development rights intact is an important first step, he added.

If the gargantuan projected income from the CPF, which has already been approved by voters to run for at least another decade, can cover the anticipated cost of funding acquisitions in both forms, both can be tackled, according to Mr. DeLuca.

“If we can buy the 900 acres and we can still preserve the land [owned by conservation organizations],” added Richard Amper, the director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, “there doesn’t have to be a debate.”

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Why on earth would the town ever consider using preservation funds to buy land that is already preserved? This would really get the town into some suspect deals as far as valuation goes.The CPF was made so the town could buy the development right of vacant parcels. The town needs to stay as far away as possible from the Peconic Land Trust.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Aug 28, 13 10:44 AM
1 member liked this comment
It wasn't a matter of development rights. The town took possession of the property to be preserved. Not all of it is farm land.
Either way, the properties are no longer up for development.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 13 1:23 PM
At first blush it looks like the CPF money is being transferred to the Peconic Land Trust so that this not-for-profit can make more decisions about what property should be preserved.

It would also be worthwhile to examine the Peconic Land Trust's 990 Tax Return to determine whether this is a good bang for the buck, or not.
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on Aug 28, 13 10:48 AM
2 members liked this comment
I was wondering when you would chime in here PBR - are you Fred Thiele?
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Aug 30, 13 12:22 AM
ask the advice of local hitter Joe the developer hero and do OPPOSITE of what he says
By david h (405), southampton on Aug 28, 13 4:10 PM
$100,000 per acre .. in Bridgehampton .. what am I missing ..isn't that more like $450-600,000 an acre ??
By david h (405), southampton on Aug 28, 13 4:11 PM
The 100k per acre is for PROTECTED land which in theory can not be built on. Yes, that is right for vacant land whose development rights have been stripped away.

As the horse farm in the new Village of Lauerville demonstrates, however, even protected land can be built on in some respects. Hopefully the Town ZBA will deny the pending application for MORE residential units on this so-called "agricultural" use.

So yes, the answer to your question appears to be "yes."
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 28, 13 4:53 PM
got it - thanks!
By david h (405), southampton on Aug 28, 13 5:05 PM
The PLT might consider that it has been partially responsible for protected land having such a high resale value. Many years ago, protected land could ONLY be used for agricultural purposes.

Since then, the definition of "agricultural" has been expanded to include polo, horse farms, farm stands, pumpkin towns, etc., with all the "necessary" accouterments . . .

With The Rich WANTING the best of everything, the necessities of life in The Hamptons has taken on a meaning of its own.

Yup, ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 28, 13 5:13 PM
PBR - if you have a problem with what's defined as "ag use" take it up with the NYS Ag and Markets. It's not Southampton Town or the BZA that is responsible. Why shouldn't a horse farm or a farm stand be considered "agriculture"?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 28, 13 5:17 PM
Because of the extreme reading the term "agriculture" has been given IMO.

Go by the new "horse farm" buildings at Lauerville on Deerfield Road (indoor riding barn etc. including very fancy details), then add in 4 more residential units being requested, then let us know your thoughts please. [About 70,000 sf total of new structures +/- as I recall]


By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 28, 13 5:45 PM
PS - In addition to replying under the first article above, please check the photos in the Photo Gallery at the following article. See all those open vistas? [some of the photos are of another project FYI -- see below]


See photos 2-4 of 6 here:

By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 28, 13 5:59 PM
The Press has not yet linked previous articles on this. See this one re: the possibility of letting land "go fallow" as one option.

Isn't this a traditional part of Nature's cycle?

By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 28, 13 6:03 PM
Sorry wrong link.

By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 28, 13 6:05 PM
Does Mr. Thiele still stand by this quote from the article above?

“There’s good intentions here—the money would be used to protect other lands in the town—but there’s a slippery slope the town should consider,” he said. “Voters voted for the CPF thinking the money was going to be used to preserve land that is not preserved now. So should public dollars be used to acquire things that there is at least a perception are protected already?”
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 28, 13 7:08 PM
And I'm impatient?

Again... it's not the Town's fault. His rights are protected under NYS Ag and Markets Law and Case Law. Is it "excessive"? Well, that's your opinion. Is there honestly a difference between a house for 4 employees totaling 1,100 square feet and one that's 2,200 square feet in size for the same # of employees?

Why is it wrong for employee housing to be built on ag lands? We are talking a footprint of 1/10 an acre (this is assuming a 4,000 square foot footprint ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 28, 13 8:19 PM
"Excessive" ?

Please look carefully at Lauerville on Deerfield Road, watch all the videos (*), and let us know what you, as a professional planner, think.

In my personal opinion Lauerville is but one example of The Blob absorbing The East End. [Perhaps you are too young to remember this movie?]

Have a good Labor Day weekend . . .

(*) The comments below the various articles linked above contain time-stamped citations to the Planning Board videos from recent ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 29, 13 6:45 AM
$$ finds loopholes, this should not surprise you. Regardless, everything Lauer has done is within his rights under NYS Ag and Markets (you keep ignoring that fact).

Are the vistas not being preserved to your liking? Apparently so. But there's a lot more to CPF and development right purchases and preservation than simply "vistas". The main point is to preserve ag soils. 100 years from now when Lauer is long gone and his family has dismanteled "Lauerville" a farmer can come in and plant ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 13 9:15 AM
Btw PBR - read this article: http://www.27east.com/news/article.cfm/Bridgehampton/30809/Local-Riders-Take-Spotlight-On-Opening-Day-At-The-Hampton-Classic

Local riders have to train somwhere... no? Any guesses as to how much the Hampton Classic contributes to the local economy? Ever wonder how much the horse world pays into the local coffers? It's as Hamptons as Art and the Beach as far as I'm concerned.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 13 11:34 AM
Horse Farms? Yes, of course, in the abstract, and I never said otherwise. Ditto for polo, farm stands, etc. as agricultural uses.

BUT -- as with any rule, there are exceptions -- the current trend in expanding the "agricultural" exemption to no-building on PROTECTED LAND results in exceptions which are swallowing the rule.

Again, I wish the next time you comment on this topic (L-ville), you could say that you have personally examined as closely as possible the site, and have read ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 29, 13 11:43 AM
Whoops, I missed your earlier comment. The only rights Lauer has under the NYS Ag Laws are what the LOCAL boards interpret those laws to mean, in practice, subject of course to court review of the local boards' actions.

The buildings on Deerfield has stretched the limits of what should be permitted under this exception IMO -- the additional residential units are going too far, again in my opinion.

Let's agree to disagree on the particulars of this. I concur with the goals of the ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 29, 13 11:47 AM
Glad you're not on a Board as "your opinion" would probably would result in many a lawsuit. You're suggesting Boards should go against Case Law? That will work out well in the long run...

WHY have the buildings on Deerfield "stretched the limits of what should be permitted"? Because they're state of the art? Because they have nice couches? You don't actually explain yourself, just throw IMO at the end of everything.

I also find your assumptions that I am not well read, well ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 13 11:59 AM
When you have confirmed that you have done the easy tasks requested of you above (or already have knowledge of all the details -- site inspection -- all hearing videos -- etc.), let's continue this conversation, perhaps next week. If you have worked on Mr. Lauer's project in any respect (as you coyly hint), please say so, and drop the "tease." If so, you might consider the issue of "bias."

As we both know, each "case" generates "law" limited solely to the facts of that case, and it alone. ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 29, 13 12:23 PM
I don't do homework PBR - I have plenty of knowledge to have a discussion with you and I don't need to prove that I have read XYZ. I'm knowledgeable and you know that. This isn't "teacher-student" time PBR.

And I'll be coy all I want - it doesn't matter if I did work on the project or not, my point was that you are making a lot of assumptions about my knowledge and experience, none of which is relevant to the discussion.

Why are neighbors somehow "guarenteed" vistas? Large trees ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 13 12:45 PM
1 member liked this comment
Thank you.

One last question -- would it be within the "discretion" [legal term] of the SHT Planning Board to deny the pending application for additional housing units?

Yes or no, please.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 29, 13 12:58 PM
Yes - but it doesn't mean it's the right (legal) decision.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 13 1:01 PM
You have side stepped the question I asked using the legal term "discretion" which I thought you would understand in the context of this case. Let me re-phrase.

If the Planning Board denies the appl. for more housing units, and Mr. Lauer goes to court, could the court determine that the PB's denial was "within the Board's discretion," based on the facts?

Or are you saying that the Court would HAVE to find an "abuse of discretion?"
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 29, 13 1:24 PM
It's not about if the PB has discretion - it's about the merits of the application and how the law applies. I'm neither Judge nor Jury. Stop trying to trap me with your bogus hypotheticals PBR.

If you want to play Q&A you can start by answer the Questions posed to you above.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 13 2:14 PM
Lastly - it's not a matter of "discretion" it's a matter of findings. Would the findings statement hold up? What is the SEQRA determination and was it done properly? Was all procedure met? What were the grounds for denial? etc. etc. etc.

See? It doesn't warrant a "Yes" or "No" answer. And you accuse me of "drawing general and overly broad conclusions from specific objections"? Right.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 13 2:18 PM
Thank you. More evasion, smoke and mirrors . . .

Here is the exact question I asked, to which a simple "yes" answer would have sufficed.

"If the Planning Board denies the appl. for more housing units, and Mr. Lauer goes to court, could the court determine that the PB's denial was "within the Board's discretion," based on the facts?"

By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 29, 13 2:38 PM
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 29, 13 2:47 PM
I heard that Lauerville is considering forming its own police force ..
By david h (405), southampton on Aug 29, 13 4:44 PM
I am sure I am missing something here but why would the town give the Peconic Land Trust money so they can turn around and give it to farmers? SH Town should simply reach directly to the farmers and work something out. We should watch how that CPF money is deployed..there is a lot of potential for...a lot of things.
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Aug 29, 13 12:00 PM
Exactly, as Mr. Thiele said in the quote above. Have a good weekend.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 29, 13 12:25 PM
If I have supported a point you have previously attempted to make it was inadvertent. The Peconic Land Trust and its founder constitute a national treasure as far as I'm concerned.
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Aug 30, 13 6:25 AM
I agree about the PLT. The "slippery slope" is, nonetheless, very real IMO. This is a complicated and nuanced issue, about which the voters are entitled to have a voice re: THEIR CPF funds.

Here are Mr. Thiele's words again:

“There’s good intentions here—the money would be used to protect other lands in the town—but there’s a slippery slope the town should consider,” he said. “Voters voted for the CPF thinking the money was going to be ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 30, 13 7:46 AM
That's fine, but accurate information from objective parties should be the strategy. If you are going to work hard to drive public opinion and with a pr campaign and persuasive discourse in the paper's comment section - as a direct participant, it would be most suitable to practice full disclosure... Letting the voters decide is only a noble solution if that is coupled with an equally firm stance that the voters get the straight scoop.
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Aug 30, 13 5:18 PM
"full disclosure" means?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 30, 13 6:54 PM
PS Kevin, please spell along:




By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 30, 13 6:56 PM
You're not preserving agriculture when you're covering acres of land with buildings. Particularly when the buildings are becoming residential. Next thing you know, all kinds of people will be building "horse farms" with residential buildings in anticipation of housing the soon-to-be-former spouse.
By btdt (449), water mill on Aug 29, 13 10:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
Has the town ever looked into allotments, like they have in the UK? Large plots of land are divided into smaller plots, and people pay a fee for a small plot to till. They can grow vegetables and/or flowers. People get to garden and grow food for themselves and the town collects revenue from the rents.
By btdt (449), water mill on Aug 29, 13 10:15 PM
The Town essentially tried to create those types of parcels by allowing Clustered subdivisions with Ag-preserves. There are a few examples around Town, some in Sagaponack and Bridgehampton. There's one at West Pond Drive and Newlight Lane in Bridge and another off of Ocean Road, just north of Bridge Lane.

The problem with a lot of these, however is that they're not economical for the farmer (because they're too small or too far removed from their main operations) OR they're priced out ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 30, 13 9:30 AM
Oy Vay btdt - look at EECO Farm in EH. Joke.
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Aug 30, 13 12:31 AM
years ago Christian Wolffer tried to take a migrant worker's facility and create grooms quarters and was denied along with a suit from neighbors who did not want that type of housing. Did they want migrant workers? Used to ride with friends on our horses by them and sunday AM was a particularly BAD time as they were all drunk from Sat night and would come out on the road with lewd sugestions and actually chase us. Christian would have done a great job on the buildings there (Narrow Lane East) ...more
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Sep 2, 13 5:49 PM