Eye Wainscott Farm for Enhanced Development Rights Purchase

Dankowski family suggests growing only food crops

A $4 million purchase of enhanced development rights on almost 30 acres of farmland in Wainscott would be the first East Hampton Town acquisition under which only food farming would be permitted.

The East Hampton Town Board will hold a hearing next Thursday on whether to use the community preservation fund to buy these rights to the Dankowski farm, 29.5 acres at 7 Osborn Lane and 97 Wainscott Hollow Road. Doing so would preclude future use for anything other than food production in perpetuity. 

Suffolk County had already bought the development rights to the Dankowski farm, allowing only agriculture there, but that included allowing barns, greenhouses, other structures, horse farms, and related operations.

According to the Wainscott proposal, nursery stock could not be grown on the farm, nor would any additional permanent structures be permitted. No more than one acre could be used for such temporary uses as hoop houses or flower production, and they would have to be adjacent to existing structures. Should the enhanced agreement be approved, the property would have to be passed on or sold to a qualified farmer.  

While the town’s agricultural advisory committee has endorsed the deal, it drew strong criticism at a town board meeting last Thursday from Ilissa Loewenstein Meyer, an East Hampton resident who said she is an equine business owner. Ms. Meyer, who was recently appointed co-chairwoman of the town Democratic Committee but spoke as an individual and businesswoman, charged that the town was “trying to systematically eliminate horse farms from the community.” The acreage devoted to horses in East Hampton, she said, is far less than is used for crops. Equine use is preferable, she said, because horse-farm owners “never spray toxic chemicals, remove soil, or plant anything that would ever harm the environment or our water quality — unlike crop farmers.”

Town board members said they were not contemplating across-the-board restrictions on horse farms or any other agricultural use, as defined under state law. The food-crop only restriction, they said, had been proposed by the Dankowski family and would be specific to their property.

Southampton Town has adopted an enhanced development rights program, prohibiting the use of protected farmland for sod fields, nurseries, and horse farms, but East Hampton Town’s agricultural advisory committee has recommended that, to maintain flexibility, the purchase of enhanced development rights be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Cantwell agreed. “I’m not saying every farmland purchase should be structured this way,” he said. “This is a specific farmer who is willing to sell off the remaining development rights to the town, leaving essentially only the right to farm it for food production. It’s 30 acres of prime agricultural soil in the middle of Wainscott.”

“The property owner and that family has been growing row crops there for generations,” Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said, “and he wants to ensure that the property’s going to be maintained in that way that the family’s traditionally used it.”

 Mr. Cantwell said that although the development rights acquisition program had been “a terrific success, by and large . . . tree farms and nurseries and a host of other uses were left on the table. And unfortunately to some extent we’ve seen a lot of prime agricultural soils go fallow, and be used for other purposes, like lawns and many other things . . . and were in some cases overdeveloped.”

“Honestly, I think when the farmland purchase program was voted on and approved . . . people assumed that they were going to be farms forever, and I think we learned that’s not what happened in many cases,” Mr. Cantwell said.

The town board will hold other hearings next Thursday on several outright purchases using the community preservation fund, including two Springs parcels adjacent to Accabonac Harbor.

Cile Downs would, if the proposal is approved, receive $1.2 million for her property at 958 Fireplace Road in Springs, while retaining the use of the house and associated structures there for life.

Jorie and Stephen Latham would be responsible for removing a house and other buildings from their .7-acre lot on Shipyard Lane in Springs before selling it to the town for $1.7 million.

Also proposed is the purchase of three acres of vacant land at 108 Stony Hill Road in Amagansett from Frederick and Judith Barnes for $1.5 million.

The hearings will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall.