Golf Club One of Six Eyeing Gansett Acres

Plans call for crops, horses, community space
Morgan McGivern

The future of the 19-acre parcel now called Amagansett Farm, purchased by East Hampton Town for $10.1 million in the spring, could include crop production, a center for local small farms and food producers, a horse rescue and breeding operation, or even a golf driving range, according to proposals that have been submitted to the town.

Six entities responded to a call for proposals, which were due last Thursday. They included the South Fork Country Club, in a partnership with Balsam Farms of Amagansett, which would like to use 60 to 65 percent of the farmland for a driving range, golf instruction area, putting greens, and other golf activities. Another portion would be farmed by Balsam Farms, which is owned by Alex Balsam, who is also an attorney, and Ian Calder-Piedmonte, a member of the town planning board.

Balsam Farms separately partnered with Amber Waves Farm, also of Amagansett, and Britton Bistrian, an Amagansett land use planner, on the Bunker Hill Corner Farm Collaborative proposal, which, they said, would allow use of some of the site by other local farmers and a beekeeper, who have already expressed interest.

Good Water Farms, an organic farm founded in Amagansett that specializes in growing microgreens, also envisions hosting others in the burgeoning local food and farming industry here should it be awarded use of the site by the town.

Jennifer Faga of Montauk submitted a proposal to establish a horse breeding and rescue facility that would provide educational programs for local residents who want to learn about equestrian activities and husbandry. She is a former breeder of Arabian horses and a member of the National Council of the Humane Society of the United States. A veterinary school alumna, Ms. Faga worked at Deep Hollow Ranch in Montauk while growing up, ran a horse breeding operation for 23 years, and has served as a consultant to the Suffolk County Parks Department on an equestrian facility. “It’s my dream,” she said of what she envisions on the Amagansett site.

Also responding to the town’s request for proposals were Henry C. Blazer of Amagansett Farm, who could not be reached by press time, and George C. Stankevich, an Amagansett attorney. Town officials would not release the proposals that were submitted.

In a letter to the town, Mr. Stankevich said that he represents “several ultra-high net worth individuals, Fortune 500 companies, and local founding families” who were responding to the request for proposals. However, he said, he was “forbidden to disclose their identity or proceed further” until the town conducts an environmental analysis of the property, including a check for pollutants and an investigation of the water table and the structural integrity of the buildings.

The town’s criteria for proposals specified an agricultural use of the site, including use of a stable and residence there, as well as the ability for Soldier Ride, a nonprofit veterans’ organization founded in Amagansett, to continue to hold annual fund-raisers on the property.

The land was bought by the town using the community preservation fund for “the preservation of agricultural open space and recreation,” according to a town board resolution approving the deal. The purchase was put in motion after the land’s former owners proposed a large luxury senior housing development, prompting a public outcry.

Besides raising crops, the Bunker Hill Corner Farm Collaborative proposes a community garden, a public green and walking loop, and events such as agriculture classes and other educational programs, and farm-to-table meals.

In light of “a groundswell of new farms and farmers” in recent years, the partners wrote in their proposal, they “want to further this trend and re-establish farming as a cornerstone of the local experience,” focusing on sharing work and resources among local farmers.

Local food and farm-related organizations, such as the Amagansett Food Institute, Slow Food, or the Edible School Gardens groups, would be afforded use of a meeting room in the barn.

Bedrooms in the structures would be used for farm worker housing.

Hoop houses or other structures would be placed only in two sunken pits on the property, which would hide them from view and protect the property’s scenic vista.

The Bunker Hill partners have asked that a five-acre area for Soldier Ride’s use be excluded from the lease. They have offered an annual rent of $6,000 for the remaining acreage and the barn. They would pay more, they said, if the town allows on-site worker housing or undertakes the construction of a deer fence.

Good Water Farms has offered $70,000 rent for the first year, with 2-percent increases each subsequent year, and the golf club has offered $75,000, with maintenance and repair expenses, and utilities, estimated at $25,000 annually, to be borne by the town.

In addition to planting in-ground crops, Good Water Farms would set up its indoor microgreens cultivation area in a basement.  A greenhouse would be constructed in the sunken area of the land.

According to its proposal, a commercial kitchen would be made available for rent at a “reasonable rate” to local artisanal food producers.

A farmstand would be set up in the barn, with a year-round community-supported agriculture program available. The remaining barn area, according to the proposal, could be used for a variety of community activities, from health and wellness lectures to meetings of nonprofit groups, exhibits, or other events, similar to the use of Ashawagh Hall in Springs.

Office space would be offered, also at an affordable rate, to local not-for-profits, especially those involved in sustainable organic agriculture, food, health, and education, creating, the proposal says, “a support network for these organizations by housing them under one roof.”

Good Water Farms proposes using the kitchen for cooking demonstrations by chefs and nutritionists as well as for preparing community farm-to-table dinners.

Community farm plots would be offered, modeled on those at the East End Cooperative Organic Farm in East Hampton, also on public land, with fees based on a sliding scale depending on family size and financial need to “help address food scarcity issues for those in need.”

Good Water Farms also proposes creating a greenbelt around the land’s perimeter planted with wildflowers and with a walking trail.

Both farm groups’ proposals include plans to restore the health and fertility of the soil on the fields, where topsoil has likely been removed. Good Water Farms proposes soil testing for heavy metals or other harmful chemicals.

In its proposal, the South Fork Country Club, which has an 18-hole course and clubhouse on Old Stone Highway in Amagansett, not far from the town property, asserts that its plan to incorporate both agricultural and recreational use “is entirely consistent with the purpose of the acquisition,” which was described as both agricultural open space and recreation.

The driving range and other facilities, the club says, would be open and available to the public during daylight hours, and instructors would be available for private golf lessons and clinics. School teams, the club says, would be afforded use of the site.

Both Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and his executive assistant, Alex Walter, have long been affiliated with the country club. Mr. Walter served on the club’s board of directors beginning in 2000, and was the president from 2003 through 2012. Mr. Cantwell was a board member during Mr. Walter’s tenure as president. Both stepped down from the board in 2012.

Both men said Tuesday that they will have no involvement in vetting the proposals. The submissions will likely be handed to the town’s community preservation fund committee to be evaluated and rated, Mr. Cantwell said. Tim Brenneman, the chairman of that committee, is also a country club member and will recuse himself from the review, Mr. Cantwell said.