The Peconic Land Trust is soliciting proposals from local farmers for the greatly discounted purchase of two Water Mill properties that the trust bought with the help of Southampton Town’s Community Preservation Fund earlier this summer.
The trust paid some $12 million for the two parcels, totaling 33 acres, but will sell them to farmers for just $26,000 per acre, with the condition that they be used solely for the production of food crops.
The fire sale was made possible by the contribution of $11.1 million from the town that went toward the purchase of the development rights, as well as a package of covenants and restrictions on the land that will prevent it from ever being used for any other purpose than growing row crops.
At a gathering of farmers and local government officials in one of the two fields off Head of Pond Road in Water Mill on August 5, the deal was touted as the first time a municipality had tailored its preservation purchase to ensure that land would be continued to be tilled by farmers.
“This is the first town in the state to have done this—this is huge,” Peconic Land Trust President John v.H. Halsey said. “This farm will be available to a farmer at its true agricultural value.”
Despite having spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 15 years to remove housing development rights from thousands of acres, much of it agricultural land, many of those properties have since been lost to farmers beneath horse paddocks, riding stables and even houses for the staff of horse farms. The demand for preserved land for such uses has driven the market price well above $100,000 an acre, out of reach for most farmers.
In hopes of leading the CPF down a new path that would head off the loss of farmland protected with CPF money, the Peconic Land Trust devised a list of covenants that could be placed on the land, with commensurate compensation for the lost potential value, that would bar it from being used for equestrian uses, or left fallow. By paying extra for the additional restrictions—about 10 to 15 percent over the cost of purchasing the right to build houses on the property—the new form of preservation drives down the value of the land to a point that, trust officials hope, it could be purchased by farmers.
Mr. Halsey said there has been considerable “buzz” among farmers over the coming offering of the land, previously owned by Charlotte Danilevsky, who died in November, and expects that it will see a number of competing offers from farmers in a position to purchase one of the two lots.
At last week’s press conference, several farmers applauded the purchase and the direction taken to ensure that crops will eventually be grown on the land.
“This is a wonderful day in the life of agriculture,” said John L. Halsey, an apple farmer from Water Mill and a member of the town’s agricultural advisory board.
One fine body…