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May 23, 2008 1:28 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Rallying to save a popular farm stand

May 23, 2008 1:28 PM

The Peconic Land Trust is about to start a fund-raising drive to save a popular Sagaponack farm stand from being sold and potentially divided into house lots.

Jim and Jennifer Pike have leased the 7.5-acre property from James Hopping since 1987, but Mr. Hopping put the property on the market for $11 million at the beginning of last summer. After the Pikes gathered more than 3,000 signatures during a petition drive last year to save their farm stand, Mr. Hopping and the Peconic Land Trust signed a contract last month giving the Trust six months to collect $8.23 million to buy the property.

The Land Trust plans to partner with the Southampton Town Community Preservation Fund and community members who signed the Pikes’ petition to collect the money.

The Pikes currently farm more than 70 acres in Sagaponack, but due to the enormous escalation of land values there, they have managed to buy only 6 acres. They rent the rest.

The property on which the farm stand sits is usually planted with wildflowers and lettuce, though when the Pikes open for the summer this week, they will primarily be selling strawberries and tomatoes grown in a greenhouse behind their Merchant’s Path home.

“It’s a great location for a farm stand. It’s a quaint location on a well-traveled, but not excessively busy road,” said Mr. Pike. “It’s our base of operations. We store our equipment there. Finding another spot would be problematic.”

In the meantime, Peconic Land Trust President John v.H. Halsey is preparing an agreement that could eventually allow the Pikes to own the property.

“In the next few days we’re sending an e-mail blast letting people know about the contract and letting them know where we stand in terms of timing,” said Mr. Halsey. “We want to push this summer, while people are here.”

Mr. Halsey said ideally the Land Trust would partner with the Community Preservation Fund office, with each organization kicking in 50 percent to finance the purchase. Mary Wilson, who administers the town’s CPF fund, said that her office has ordered an appraisal of the property, though she would not comment further on the status of negotiations.

“The CPF is under a tremendous amount of pressure. The town has really spent pretty much everything that 2 percent has funded,” said Mr. Halsey, adding that the amount and timing of the town’s participation will be critical to whether the property can be bought for preservation. “It’s gonna be a lot of work between now and then,” he said.

The Peconic Land Trust plans to find a way to allow the Pikes to buy the farmland, though the Trust may need to ensure that the couple is able to buy the property at a reasonable price.

Mr. Halsey said that “restricted farmland,” which has been stripped of its ability to be developed, sells on the East End for an average of between $80,000 and $100,000 per acre.

“The number is going up. Certainly it’s something a farmer cannot afford to pay,” he said. “It’s a larger issue that impacts farmland protection efforts. We need to look at using this as a tool so that protected farmland is available to farmers at reasonable prices.”

Mr. Hopping would not comment on the contract, though his real estate agent, Peter Turino of Brown Harris Stevens, said that the property is still for sale with a price tag of $9.9 million.

“People call me to ask my personal business. I would not bother you if you sold your property to someone,” said Mr. Hopping, whose family has lived on the East End for more than 400 years. He added that he was bitter toward the federal and state governments for enacting estate taxes that are forcing him to sell his property.

“People who come here from the city pay $2 million for a house,” he said. “If they want to pay that money for that property they can pay the tax. It kills everybody.”

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