The State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Land Trust Alliance recently awarded the Peconic Land Trust a grant that will be used to help Southampton Town improve its farmland preservation strategy.
The $40,000 grant was distributed through the Conservation Partnership Program of the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. It enables the trust to work with the town to review and revise the town’s 1998 Farm and Farmland Preservation Strategy, as well as develop new tools and plans to conserve remaining farmland, which is considered at risk of extreme development pressure.
Having worked with the town and the agricultural community to prepare the 1990s strategy, “we are uniquely positioned to review and update it in the face of new, unanticipated challenges that threaten our farms and farmland,” said John v.H. Halsey, president of the Peconic Land Trust in a release. “We are the canary in the coal mine, and other parts of New York State will benefit by understanding our successes and failures as we reinvent our preservation tools.”
That revised strategy will involve identifying present-day challenges faced by farmers and the town, such as the dramatic increase in the value of protected farmland as a result of purchases by non-farmers for use as an amenity, according to Dawn Haight, Conservation Design Manager at the Peconic Land Trust.
Even land that cannot be developed has skyrocketing value at the high end of the real estate market, since it can be acquired and stitched onto a nearby building lot, creating single-family estates of 20, 30, even 40 acres, which are selling for astronomical, eight-figure prices in the current market. Affluent landowners see the farmland as valuable acreage to enhance an estate, or expand a vanity horse farm.
The trust will make recommendations to the Town Board on options the municipality has to pursue farmland preservation—”strategies that can be customized to achieve the mutual goals of the town and farmland owners and ensure that the town’s agricultural heritage endures,” said Ms. Haight by email.
“Like all good policy, these programs and approaches must be re-evaluated from time to time in response to changing conditions and needs, and this grant offers a timely opportunity to do so in a comprehensive way with the assistance of a highly capable and well-informed organization,” stated Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst in a press release.
As a result of the grants, the Peconic Land Trust will be one of many organizations that can leverage $1.7 million in additional matching funds from community and private sources.