Southampton Town Project Makes Farmland Affordable

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The family of Paul Rogers has owned and farmed their land in Water Mill since the 1880s and currently own about 92 acres in the area. After his father’s death, the prospect of being able to purchase farmland from his aunts and uncles seemed slim for Mr. Rogers, with property values so high in the area. He was afraid the land might eventually be sold off to a non-farmer who could actually afford the property.This has become a familiar story on the East End: farmland often purchased by the highest bidder, typically replacing food crops with horse farms or vineyards. But the Rogers family is ensuring this won’t happen to their land.

The Southampton Town Board is in the process of acquiring the enhanced development rights to their property, and several others, to ensure they all remain as farmland for the next generation.

On July 12, the Town Board held a public hearing on a proposal to obtain the enhanced development rights of three farming properties in Water Mill and East Quogue. Buying the enhanced rights will enable the town to require that future buyers of the land be qualified farmers, restrict the properties’ use to growing food crops and place a limit on future sale prices so that the properties remain affordable for other food crop farmers.

The town will pay Mr. Rogers’s family $3.315 million, or about $100,000 per acre, for the enhanced easements on one property on Montauk Highway in Water Mill, reducing the value of the land to about $22,000 per acre. That will make it possible for Mr. Rogers to purchase it outright.

The second property is 62.4 acres already being farmed on Scuttlehole Road, where the enhanced easement will apply to 52.4 acres, because the remainder is wooded and can’t be tilled. The negotiated price with the Rogers family was $4,558,800.

The easements will allow Mr. Rogers and his son, Sam, to continue to farm in Water Mill. At the land off Montauk Highway that his family has owned for generations, they have already started planting and are currently in the process of harvesting a crop of buckwheat to help build up the soil.

“We were concerned about what will happen in the next generation,” Mr. Rogers said. “For our family, this is an opportunity to keep the farm in once piece. I think it will maintain diversity of locally grown food production on the East End.”

All of the properties are in the Farmland Preservation Target Area under the 2015 Community Preservation Project Plan. The plan identifies high-priority properties for acquisition through the Community Preservation Fund.

The funds for the easements come out of the town’s CPF, according to CPF Manager Mary Wilson. The easement significantly reduces the value of the land, allowing qualified farmers, those who earn at least 50 percent of their income by farming, to purchase the land at an attainable price.

Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said farming is important to protect rural character and the town’s agricultural roots.

“To the casual observer, nothing has changed,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “We’ve paid a lot of money so nothing changes. The community has decided this is vital to our community character. The community is willing to make the necessary funds available to retain the use that would disappear in the current economy if not for this program.”

Mr. Rogers will purchase the underlying deeds for the property from his relatives, and it will be owned by a trust to benefit his children. He said he plans to rotate several crops and install a deer fence once he obtains the deed.

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