By Claire Walla
Sag Harbor resident and “Today Show” host Matt Lauer is one step closer to building a horse farm on a 40-acre piece of land off Deerfield Road in Water Mill.
At a meeting last Thursday, May 24, the Southampton Town Planning Board officially closed the public hearing regarding the proposed Edge of Woods Horse Farm, near the intersection of Deerfield and Edge of Woods roads. The board voted to leave a 14-day window for written comments before town planner Claire Vail drafts her final report on the application.
The board is not expected to make its final determination on the application until next month at the earliest.
However, while the process seems to be moving forward, residents who had been vocal in their opposition to the building project had their last say.
“My concern is with the use of an [agricultural] reserve — [for which] the town purchased the development rights — for building a project of this size,” said Water Mill resident Kim Covell, whose home is adjacent to the proposed horse farm. “This is something we should think long and hard about.”
According to the application, Edge of Woods Horse Farm would include two 34,000 square foot outdoor riding rings, a 23,940 square foot indoor riding ring, as well as a 17,455 square foot barn with space for up to 36 horses. The proposed “grooms quarters” and utility building would exist within two structures currently on the property.
Currently, only 6,010 square feet are dedicated to buildings. The proposed horse farm would increase that to about 49,742 square feet.
Southampton Town purchased the development rights to the 30.3-acre property on Deerfield Road, then known as Frankenbach’s Deerfield Nursery, for $3.6 million in 2005. That action effectively preserved the land for open space.
However, according to planning board member Jacqi Lofaro, the proposed Edge of Woods Horse Farm does not, in fact, violate the town’s rules and regulations when it comes to preservation.
“As odd as it seems, New York State considers horse farms farming,” she explained. “Many people don’t realize that.”
In fact, “equestrian rights” is listed as one of the exemptions when it comes to limiting the development of open spaces. The property owner therefore has “the right to use and erect structures for the purpose of boarding, breeding, raising and training of horses or other equines,” according to official Grant of Development Rights signed in 2005.
The exemption does not include “riding academies” or “equine events.” But Tim McCulley, a lawyer for the proposed Edge of Woods Horse Farm, insisted the stables would be for private use only, and no classes or camps would be administered from the farm.
“We’re not trying to draw people from all over,” he told the board. “It can’t be a riding academy.”
Water Mill resident J. Andreassi, who has lived in the area for about 11 years, said overall, in his opinion the horse farm is a much better use of the land than what it’s been used for in the past. As a former commercial space, he explained that it brought a lot of tractor-trailers to the area, including trucks making deliveries early in the morning.
“My wife and I think this application is going to be much better for the future of that particular area,” he added. “From our point of view, there will be less traffic.”
However, some neighbors also cited concerns with a row of cypress trees proposed for the edge of the property.
Neighbor Peter Barylskie noted that some homeowners would be affected by the new row of foliage, in that they would lose sun earlier in the day, therefore shortening their days “by two or three hours.”
Harriet Wittenberg agreed with Barylskie.
“I don’t see any problem with this project, except that it might block our view,” she said.
McCulley said the landscaping plans are still “in the works.”
“We can accommodate the neighbors,” he added. “If the people want to see the horse farm, then we’re going to try to accommodate them as best as possible.”