Energy farm proposed at Ocean Avenue property

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Agricultural reserves in Southampton Town were originally created to preserve the East End’s iconic rows of potatoes and corn although, over the past decade, the owners of these properties have consistently pushed the boundaries in terms of what defines agricultural activities.

Elaborate polo fields and vineyards, complete with wine tasting rooms, are already found on these reserves and, last week, Westhampton-based builder Rocco Lettieri proposed an entirely new use for an agricultural reserve on Ocean Road in Bridgehampton. He plans to build an energy-generating farm that will include a solar-panel array and windmill, along with an orchard, cut flowers and saw grass, the latter of which will be used to make hay and biofuels.

Mr. Lettieri, who is planning to develop the site for the holding company FDHFZ BH LLC, which owns the property, presented his plans to the Southampton Town Planning Board during a work session last Thursday, April 17.

The holding company purchased the 26-acre site, which includes six house lots measuring just over two acres each, and the 13.4-acre agricultural reserve from Ocean Highland LLC in 2007 for $38.25 million.

While stating that they encouraged the use of alternative energy, Planning Board members expressed concern that power generation might not be an appropriate activity on an agricultural reserve. Only energy created on-site will be used to power the operation, according to Mr. Lettieri’s proposal.

He also plans to incorporate geothermal energy in the design, a technology that is still in its early development stages. Any vehicles used on the property would be powered with compressed air.

Mr. Lettieri explained that the solar panels would be low to the ground and invisible from the road due to the surrounding orchards and fields. He added that the windmill would be of a similar style to historic windmills in Bridgehampton, but would be equipped with a modern turbine. He plans to market all of the fruit, flowers and hay produced at the site locally.

In response to concerns raised by Planning Board members, Kyle Collins, Mr. Lettieri’s consultant, noted that power generation has historically been an agricultural use.

“No doubt this is new, leading edge stuff,” said Planning Board member Jacqui Lofaro, who added that she was concerned that the reserve lies in the middle of a residential area.

Mr. Collins said that since FDHFZ BH LLC owns the six surrounding house lots, the company would actually consider the innovative project as a selling point for a sustainable community surrounding the reserve.

Planning Board Chairman Dennis Finnerty recommended that Mr. Lettieri use one of the house lots for the solar panels if the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets does not allow power generation on the reserve.

“If you’re ever going to find alternative energy, you have to be willing to try new things,” said Planning Board member George Skidmore.

“I think this is a very interesting, innovative plan,” said Vice Chairman John Blaney. “I hope it’s something we can do.”

Mr. Lettieri will need to draft detailed plans for a formal application in the upcoming weeks.

In other news, the Planning Board was also concerned by a new proposal discussed on April 17 for another agricultural reserve in Bridgehampton.

Architect Harold Leer plans to purchase two agricultural reserves on West Pond Drive in Bridgehampton, where he is proposing to build a farm for boarding and raising horses. The larger lot is 17.7 acres and the other is 2.7 acres. Both are currently owned by Merlin Reserve LLC.

Mr. Leer presented preliminary plans for a 16-stall horse barn, indoor and outdoor riding rings and several apartments and offices for farm workers at the site. The entrance for farm workers would be on Newlight Lane, just south of Montauk Highway.

He explained that he plans to train jumping horses and have a grand prix course for them to practice on, though he does not plan to host horse shows. The stables would be called Four Trees Farm.

The Planning Board liked the traditional style of the buildings, designed by noted farm architect John Blackburn, but members said they had some reservations because horse breeding is not permitted in a residential area.

Mr. Leer’s attorney, Robert Marcincuk, said the farm would just be used for raising, training and birthing horses, and that the actual breeding would be done at another site.

Mr. Leer has not yet done a cost analysis of his project, but he plans to do so before he submits a formal proposal to the board.

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