Southampton Village is considering a new use for a Community Preservation Fund property that in the past has been mired in controversy and litigation — an organic farm.
Mayor Mark Epley said Southampton Town CPF manager Mary Wilson approached the village about leasing the 5.78-acre parcel on Aldrich Lane, which is jointly owned by the village and town, to be used as a farm. The village board is considering the proposal and plans to set aside a portion of the land for a community garden.
The parcel would be leased at a rate of approximately $150 per acre per year, the local going rate for agricultural land for farm use, Wilson said.
The Aldrich Lane property has been a point of contention in the past between the town and village as Epley had proposed using it as an open-air hiring site for day laborers in an effort to get them off the streets and sidewalks, where they wait for work. Neighbors came out in opposition, anti-illegal immigration protestors demonstrated outside Epley’s house and the town sued. Epley and the village abandoned the idea and have struggled with finding an accepted use for the property.
Epley said the Aldrich Lane parcel was an actively farmed property when it was purchased in 2001 for $1.6 million through the CPF, a town program for preserving open space and farmland. The farm could even be expanded through the purchase of adjacent undeveloped land, he said.
“We want to make it clear that it will be all organic too,” Epley emphasized.
But the village board members are not all in agreement that a farm is the best use for the property, and records regarding the CPF purchase are unclear on what the intent for the land was — agriculture or recreation.
“I personally would rather see something relating to parks and recreation than I would farming,” village Trustee Paul Robinson said during an interview last week. “The village needs more parks and recreation than it needs small farms.”
Robinson said that while he recognizes the village’s agricultural history, the village is changing and farming is being phased out. Farm animals are already prohibited under village code, he pointed out.
“There are some conflicts within the paperwork,” Epley said, explaining that a village resolution called the acquisition of Aldrich an “agricultural land purchase,” but he said the town board resolution on the purchase is not very clear.
“It’s something that has to get resolved between the village and the town,” Wilson said.
Village Trustee Bonnie Cannon said last week that she is fine with putting a farm at Aldrich Lane, but does not want the village to forget that there is a need for a park and recreational area that has not been fulfilled. She said she was under the impression that a park would be put in place at Aldrich for the Hillcrest neighborhood to use.
Epley said the village tried to go down the recreation route, with tennis or basketball courts, but said neighbors came out in opposition, not wanting the noise of an active park and balls bouncing.
Trustee Nancy McGann said Thursday that the village is looking at other areas for parks and recreation, such as putting in basketball courts at next to the village police station on Windmill Lane or finding a use for the Doscher property, a 2005 CPF purchase that abuts the playground at .
“Those are areas that I think will benefit the entire community and give a lot of recreation to people,” she said.
McGann, whose neighborhood abuts the Aldrich parcel, said her chief concerns with a farm are that it be organic and what the fencing will look like.
“If you live in an area like where we live, where they are so many homes and there are children, it’s not right to have pesticides,” she said Thursday.
Concerning fencing, McGann noted that there is a deer problem in her neighborhood and said she expects some sort of deer fence will go up around the farm. The neighbors have a right to know what it would look like, she said.
Though she would be satisfied with a farm or park at Aldrich, McGann said she is just one neighbor. “I’d like to get the consensus of the whole neighborhood,” she said, adding that she plans to call all her neighbors to explain the situation and get their feedback.
McGann said a farm would probably be a beautiful addition, but she wants to experiment with it for a year first. “I’d hate to see a long-range contract there,” she said.
“It is going to change our neighborhood — there’s no question,” she said at a village board meeting earlier this month.