Southampton Town officials say they plan to cite a developer for violating the terms of an agricultural easement by installing sprinklers and planting lawn grass, and will go to court to force him to remove them.
The developer, Jay Bialsky, installed a grid-like sprinkler system on nearly all of the 10.5-acre agricultural easement that abuts three building lots he owns in Sagaponack. The easement was created as part of the subdivision of the three adjacent lots, in accordance with town code.
Agricultural easement land, according to code, cannot be developed; it does not have to be used for active farming, but it may not be transformed into anything other than an agricultural use. Agricultural uses include fallow fields and horse paddocks, but not manicured lawn.
Farmers and land preservation advocates have lamented for years what they say is the bastardization of agricultural easements by legal interpretations, with open space and farmland often vanishing. This week, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the town intends to halt the perceived misuse of easement land in this case.
“This is a precedent we have to address,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “We have to make it clear that these easements are there for a reason, and you have to comply with them—and irrigation is not permitted. These cannot be used as lawns.”
Ms. Throne-Holst said that Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato’s office will serve Mr. Bialsky with a violation of the easement terms. She said Mr. Bialsky has been notified that he is out of compliance with the easement and has indicated to town officials that he does not intend to remove the irrigation system.
Mr. Bialsky, however, said this week that he was not aware of the town’s stance on the easement. He declined to comment further.
There had been some discussion about what municipality had the authority to enforce the easement, the town or Sagaponack Village, which incorporated after the property had been subdivided and the town received the easement. But Ms. Throne-Holst said that since the easement was granted to the town, the town was still the authority of record on its covenants.
Sagaponack Village Mayor Donald Louchheim said that the village would support the town in whatever action they take against Mr. Bialsky. Mr. Louchheim said this week that he met with Mr. Bialsky recently and asked him to remove the sprinkler system—a request that was refused.
“We’ve made no secret of the fact that we hope the town will move to require the removal of those sprinkler heads,” Mr. Louchheim said. “It threatens the integrity of all the town’s agricultural reserves. It transforms them into a residential amenity.”