In light of the recent Southampton Town Board decision to use Community Preservation Fund money to purchase the Foster Farm in Sagaponack (82 acres adjacent to Montauk Highway), and the recent Peconic Land Trust purchase of Pike’s Farmstand in Sagaponack, I spoke to Peconic Land Trust President and friend of Dan’s Papers, John v.H Halsey, for some clarity about both transactions. He took time from his Memorial Day sojourn in California to reply.
“No two acquisitions are the same,” he said. “In the case of the Foster Farm, the family has offered to sell development rights on the agricultural land to the Town. They will retain ownership of the protected farmland. They are selling the rights over a period of years [I believe five years]. The benefit of this is that it doesn’t tap all of the Town’s available funds, but instead spreads it out, enabling the Town to do other acquisitions this year.” So I asked him what was the Peconic Land Trust view of this acquisition. “We are 100% in support of this acquisition as the parcel is 80+ acres on Montauk Highway that could otherwise be developed in the future.” When asked how this differs from the Pike’s Farmstand deal, Halsey said, “In the case of the Pike Farmstand, the property [on which the farmstand operates and will continue to operate] was owned by the Hopping family. They were not interested in a sale of development rights, but rather the sale of the property in its entirety. Needless to say, the purchase price was well beyond the capacity of the Pikes to acquire. [expand] So the Trust entered into a contract to purchase the property from the Hopping family with the idea that we would raise private funds from the community and simultaneously sell the development rights to the Town and County. This provided us with another source of funds to purchase the property. The purchase price was $6 million of which the Trust brought $1.7 million to the table and the Town/County brought the balance through the purchase of the development rights at $4.3 million. Several months ago we then sold the restricted farmland with additional restrictions to the Pikes at a price they could afford. In both the Foster and the Pike transactions, the farmers end up owning the restricted farmland, but the path for the Pikes was more complicated because they did not own the farmland to begin with.”
Next I asked Halsey about his and the Peconic Land Trust’s view about how future CPF/SH dollars are going to be spent or should be spent. He replied that the Peconic Land Trust “believes that future acquisitions should use CPF funds as efficiently as possible. In other words, get the biggest bang for the buck by focusing on the remaining large parcels in the Town. We are really in the endgame in terms of land protection.” He went on to explain that “the next challenge, however, is to assure that farmers have access to already protected farmland. Unfortunately, there have been a number of acquisitions of protected farmland by non-farmers over the last 5 to 10 years that have resulted in protected farmland coming out of agricultural production. The purchases have also skewed the value of protected farmland to a level that has serious implications for estate planning.” Halsey continued: “These high prices make it increasingly difficult for farmers to purchase protected farmland when it becomes available, hence the importance of the Pike project as a model. Both the Trust and the town may need to acquire additional restrictions on already protected farmland in order to address this problem.”
Finally, with a look towards the immediate future, what does he see in both the CPF/SH and the Peconic Land Trust pipeline? He replied, “I believe that Southampton Town is in negotiations on several other agricultural properties that may be subject to public hearings this summer. The Trust continues to work on the Weigley-Babinski farmland in Wainscott. We hope to raise private funds to supplement East Hampton Town’s CPF funds to acquire the development rights on this very visible parcel on Wainscott’s Main Street.”
Halsey said that the Peconic Land Trust has had a hand in preserving some 10,000 acres since the Trust was formed in 1983. And there are at least 10,000 more acres it hopes to preserve. [/expand]