Petition To Save Stony Hill Riding Academy

Land trust calls it a ‘community resource’

    Supporters of the riding academy at Stony Hill Stables, who want to see the 50-year-old school continue to operate in Amagansett, have gathered 145 signatures on a petition urging East Hampton Town to help purchase the development rights to the Town Lane property, along with the Peconic Land Trust.
    In 2009, Elizabeth Hotchkiss proposed a subdivision that would transform her nearly 10.3-acre lot, which is in a residential zone, into three separate lots of about half an acre each with a 7.8-acre agricultural reserve.
    “When we first started to talk about the subdivision with the town, The Star printed an article, and the outpouring from the community was huge,” said Ms. Hotchkiss, who is known as Wick, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Everyone was upset about the loss of the riding school. It’s been that business for 50 years, first my mom, then me. We have grandchildren who have learned to ride with my mom, years and years ago, generations.”
    At a hearing on the subdivision before the town planning board on Aug. 10, many people offered their support for Ms. Hotchkiss, and also said that they want the riding academy to continue. They asked the planning board to deliver their petition to the town board. The group is working with the Peconic Land Trust, which would purchase the development rights with a combination of private and public funding, according to Denise Schoen of Amagansett, an attorney for Ms. Hotchkiss.
    “The speakers at that meeting, that was their idea, supported by me. The clients, they feel very strongly about it,” Ms. Hotchkiss said. She said two years ago that she had been trying unsuccessfully to interest the town in buying the development rights.
    The property contains a two-story house, an office, a 12,000-square-foot dressage arena, a 9,000-square-foot indoor riding arena, two stables, numerous corrals, and a jumping area. Ms. Hotchkiss uses the open land now as pasture for the horses, but she would be allotted flexibility for its future use. The riding school cannot exist once the property has been subdivided, as town code requires a minimum of 10 acres for a riding academy.
    As proposed, the town’s contribution would come from the community preservation fund, raised by a 2-percent real estate transfer tax. If the purchase went through, the Hotchkiss family would retain ownership of the property, but the land could not be developed for future residential or commercial use.
    Ms. Hotchkiss said she was amenable to the plan. “I have to be financially responsible to my family, and the future of my family. I’m examining all the options, and keeping it open.” Her first choice is to maintain the riding academy as is, she said, and if the money comes through, she will not do the subdivision.
    If Ms. Hotchkiss receives approval for the subdivision, 70 percent of the property will be covered by an agricultural easement. “If subdivided, what could be left would be a traditional horse farm,” said Ms. Schoen. She hopes the town will be willing to work with the land trust to purchase the development rights so that the riding academy will continue to operate.
    “Ms. Hotchkiss is going to keep moving along trying to get the subdivision fully approved. It’s her back-up financial plan,” Ms. Schoen said. “At some point in the future she will have to decide what to do. Hopefully, she will be able to keep the business that’s been there for 50 years.”
    In terms of the role of the Peconic Land Trust, “We would be facilitators for purchase of the land. We’d work with the town, we’d work with the groups [some of the people who were there at the planning board meeting], to raise the rest of the money,” said Rebecca Chapman, vice president of the land trust.
    “We wanted to show the board there was community interest in working so that these stables and the school would be able to stay,” she said. The land trust is waiting for an updated appraisal on the property.
    Several at the Aug. 10 meeting spoke passionately about Stony Hill Stables. After a move to East Hampton five years ago, Maureen Bluedorn, a trustee of the East Hampton Historical Society, said she bought her horse, and then a house. “Stony Hill . . . has created an equestrian community . . . and has an important role in the economic viability of East Hampton,” she said, adding that “250 students pass through, there are lessons during the winter, and the stables employ 25 to 30 local residents.”
    “We’re here to support this group, if the subdivision moves forward and is granted, the opportunity for the academy will be lost. We’re willing to work with the community and use preservation funds to continue the riding academy and this wonderful community resource,” said Ms. Chapman.
    There was some opposition to the subdivision, albeit friendly. “The Stony Hill Stables have been good neighbors,” said Elaine Miller, who lives next door. But she raised concerns over the proposed lot size, which she said would contribute to the suburbanization of a rural area and reduce the value of surrounding properties.
    Also, “noise and disturbance will increase with traffic of horse transport and deliveries during the day and night,” Ms. Miller added. She said the situation with idling trucks in the neighborhood has improved recently, but that in general truck traffic in a residential neighborhood is loud and disruptive. If the board approves the plans, she suggested that it “increase the driveway size and turnaround, so they can unload and pick up on stable property, not public property. These trucks should be permanently taken off the street.”
    “We’re concerned about the water,” said Kent Miller, Ms. Miller’s husband. “We all use wells in that area, we want to be assured that the wells will not be polluted. Yes, you can have all these horses, but I need some kind of assurance that the water will not be contaminated. We’re in a water recharge district.”
    In defense of the horse farm, Billy Hajek of Land Marks in Amagansett, who represents Ms. Hotchkiss, said, “The horse density is pre-existing and nonconforming. The subdivision will reduce horse [numbers], one horse per acre. I don’t know where that’s written as a requirement or regulation. You can have five horses per acre when exercising them.”
    “We would like to see it continue as a riding academy. It’s the only real riding school that is left in the area, it’s the only place where the local people can learn to ride at an affordable rate, and not have to have the expense and the burden of having their own horses. It’s also a big educational facility,” said Ms. Hotchkiss.