Several Water Mill residents raised concerns last week over a proposed horse farm on Deerfield Road that many residents fear is too large for the area.
At a Southampton Town Planning Board public hearing regarding the proposal last Thursday night, April 26, most of the residents in attendance said they were in favor of having a horse farm on the 30-acre property, which is protected as part of an agricultural reserve. What they took issue with, however, was the size and scope of the potential business.
“I think this is a good idea,” hamlet resident Christopher Farnam said at the hearing. “A horse farm is a good use, but this project seems a bit ambitious.”
The plan details 50,000 square feet of development, including a horse stall barn, indoor and outdoor riding arenas, a horse walker structure, a parking lot and paddocks, plus upgrading a utility building and converting an existing residence into living quarters for future staff.
The property, which is owned by television personality Matt Lauer, was preserved when its development rights were stripped as part of a Community Preservation Fund purchase in 2005. Because the property was preserved, the land can only be used for an agricultural purpose, which the courts have ruled includes raising horses, and can include accessory buildings for that use.
At the hearing, residents expressed concerns that the size of the property suggests that the farm would eventually be converted into a business with equestrian shows and events.
“I heard there are going to be 26 parking spots at the property,” resident Harriet Whittenberg said. “That proves this is big business.”
Traffic was another concern raised by community members. One resident, Michael Stearns, addressed the board to point out that limited visibility could be an issue for horse trailers traveling on Deerfield Road. “There is a rise on Deerfield,” he said. “There is limited visibility for traffic going in any direction, so if you have a hay truck or a large horse carrier that is stopped outside of the entrance, no one is going to see it until they are on top of it.”
According to Tim McCulley, an attorney with the law firm Burke and Sullivan, who is representing Mr. Lauer, this concern was addressed in the design of the project. “The roads and the gates are positioned far enough in so when the trailer comes down the road, there is room,” he said near the close of last week’s hearing. “There will be room on the property—it has been designed to do that.”
Dave Zublin, who designed the plan, said he approached the property with two main goals: people safety and horse safety. He added that the property was designed so people would not have to back up while inside the equestrian center. The development would feature one entrance and exit, both on Deerfield Road.
“There are going to be small kids keeping their horses here,” Mr. Zublin said. “We don’t need [trailers] backing up.”
During the hearing, Mr. Zublin announced that Mr. Lauer is considering installing fire suppression rooms in both main buildings on the property, a safety feature that is only required of the main stable. The designer said the extra features are intended to protect all horses stabled on the property. “Besides the fact that some of these horses will be little girls’ ponies and priceless,” he said. “Some of them are really worth a lot of money.”
At the end of the hour-long hearing, Mr. McCulley stressed that Mr. Lauer has no plans to convert the stables into a riding academy.
“There is concern about this turning into a commercial enterprise,” Mr. McCulley said. “None of that is allowed under the transferred development rights—this cannot be a commercial riding academy of any sort.”
The Planning Board adjourned the public hearing until Thursday, May 24, when it will be reopened due to an error announcing last week’s hearing. Written comments can also be supplied to the Planning Board.