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Jul 9, 2012 12:42 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Matt Lauer Horse Farm Approval Expected In Water Mill

Jul 11, 2012 10:00 AM

A 30-acre horse farm in Water Mill planned by “Today Show” host Matt Lauer could be approved by the Southampton Town Planning Board in the coming weeks, despite the fact that it calls for the construction of approximately 50,000 square feet of buildings on land preserved with Community Preservation Fund money.

The project won the tacit support of the town’s Agriculture Advisory Committee, a panel of farmers and agriculture industry advocates, and has cleared most of the hurdles of the site plan review process with the Planning Board. Some issues remain, but a decision on the proposal by the Planning Board could come soon; the application is on the agenda of its meeting today, July 12.

Although he espouses some personal distaste for the amount of development allowed for horse farms built on land preserved for agricultural uses, Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty said the Lauer proposal calls for considerably less development in relation to the size of the property than some other projects have been allowed.

“That project is garnering a lot of attention, but of the last dozen projects like it that we’ve approved, this is one of the most benign,” Mr. Finnerty said. “Compared, in ratio, to the size of the [agricultural] reserve, 50,000 square feet is pretty small. We’ve done reserves with maybe smaller structures, but a much higher ratio on a smaller reserve.”

Mr. Finnerty noted that the farm leaves a large area of the property entirely undisturbed, and developers have made a handful of adjustments to accommodate concerns raised by residents, including voluntarily removing a row of tall trees screening the property from view along Deerfield Road, and keeping vegetative screening along the rest of the property’s boundaries to less than 4 feet high so that views across its open areas are preserved.

The designs for the property, which Mr. Lauer is in contract to purchase from owner Alan M. Graham if the horse farm approvals come through, show a 23,940-square-foot indoor riding arena, a 17,455-square-foot stable with boarding stalls for 36 horses, and a 2,170-square-foot covered horse walking area. Additionally, two buildings on the property now—a 3,800-square-foot barn and a 2,100-square-foot farmhouse—will be renovated for use as storage and housing for the farm’s staff. While privately owned, horse farms are effectively commercial operations, with fees charged for the boarding of horses other than those owned by the property owner and hired trainers giving riding lessons to horse owners.

Mr. Lauer’s representatives have not specified whether the property will operate as a commercial business or be entirely private for Mrs. Lauer’s enjoyment alone.

When Mr. Graham subdivided his 40-acre nursery in 2005, Southampton Town paid him $3.6 million to remove its development rights, increasing the amount of total acreage preserved for agriculture from the required 50 percent to 80 percent, and reducing the number of housing lots that could be developed from more than 30 to just seven.

The term “development,” however, has a different meaning on agricultural land—structures supporting the land’s use as a farm are permitted. State law counts horse farms as an allowable agricultural use, as dictated in a 1990s court ruling in a lawsuit involving another Southampton Town horse farm proposal. And, as an agricultural venture, horse farms are allowed to construct buildings that are necessary for their business, which includes riding rings and stables.

The New York Post reported in January that the property had a $10 million asking price when it was listed for sale, but that Mr. Lauer would pay less than that. Because land preserved for agriculture cannot be developed residentially, it is inherently far less valuable than buildable lots. Typically, working farmland fetches in the neighborhood of $25,000 to $30,000 an acre, though 
since horse farms and polo clubs were deemed acceptable uses of the land, the going rate has jumped to $100,000 an acre or more.

John v.H. Halsey, president of the Peconic Land Trust, which works to help preserve farmland from development and keep farmers farming on preserved lands, said that the pending Lauer horse farm, to be known as Edge of Woods Farm, appears to be a fairly well suited use of the property. Mr. Halsey serves on the Agricultural Advisory Committee and said the committee members scrutinized the project with a jaundiced eye and came out with the opinion that the size of the buildings and the extent of the development of the preserved property are appropriate under the circumstances.

“The farmers are very critical when someone proposes something that really doesn’t make sense in the scale of the use,” he said. “They are not pushovers. And I think the board is comfortable with what’s being proposed here. It’s not flat farmland, or very good soil, and that has not been the case with all the horse farms that have come before this board.”

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Why / how does a developer get to build on PRESERVED OPEN SPACE...does this mean that the project is now a community horse stables...for the areas children and adults to ride/learn about horses???...sign me up!!
By bmc (9), southampton on Jul 16, 12 6:16 AM
The neighbors are not rich. That's why Lauer won. Money talks and common sense and beauty walk in the Hamptons.
By btdt (449), water mill on Feb 22, 13 1:20 PM