Conway farm will be first preserved through bond

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | The Conway farm on Horton Lane this week became the first farm in Southold Town to be purchased through the 2007 farmland bond, which was designed to offer families who need to sell their farms an option other than development.

A 31-acre farm on Horton Lane in Southold, owned by the estate of Julia Conway, is the first property Southold Town will purchase using money from its 2007 farmland preservation bond, which was established to help farmers whose land has been caught in an estate dispute.

The farm, at 4395 Horton Lane, just north of the Lucas Ford dealership, was planted in potatoes, cauliflower and cabbage by the Conway family, which purchased the property in 1953. It is currently planted with sod by DeLalio Sod Farms, which leases the land.

Ms. Conway’s son, former town police chief Joseph Conway, is handling the sale to the town.
“We were looking to do something with it and we wound up dealing with the town,” said Mr. Conway. “I hope it stays in agriculture.”

The Southold Town Board unanimously approved the acquisition on Tuesday, Nov. 16, after a public hearing at which no members of the public spoke.

“The problem with estate sales is they become very difficult because different members of a family have different goals and objectives,” said Supervisor Scott Russell, who explained the purchase Wednesday.

The town will purchase the development rights to 29 of the farm’s 31 acres for $1.8 million, using money from the Community Preservation Fund. In an unusual twist to farmland preservation deals, the town also will buy the entire property outright for $822,500, using money from the farmland bond. It intends to sell the property in the near future with the development rights stripped from it so it can be used only for agriculture.

The development rights will remain on two acres of the property that contain a farmhouse, two barns and several small sheds.
The town pursued this method, purchasing both the development rights and the title, because the estate was unwilling to sell just the development rights.

“We have pursued development rights in the past but couldn’t get an agreement from the heirs,” said Mr. Russell. “We can’t sit back and hope that the right buyer acquires the farm and continues to farm. This is being more assertive.”

The farmland bond, which was approved in a public referendum in 2007, was established to help ease the burden on family farmers in distressed situations, who may formerly have needed to sell their land to developers to clear up divorce or estate disputes. Southold did not adopt a set of policies for the use of that money until earlier this month.

When the town sells off the property with the development rights stripped from the farmland, the proceeds would be used to replenish the farmland preservation fund.

An additional three acres will be retained by members of the Conway family, who are no longer farmers.

“Yes, it’s a nice, easy out for the purchaser, but it’s also an easy out to sell to a developer,” said Mr. Russell. “The only difference is the development rights will be extinguished and the land will continue to be farmed … The Peconic Land Trust has worked long and hard to get them to agree to sell to us. This is a prime piece of farmland that was very much on our radar. This is not a sweetheart deal.”

Tim Kelly contributed to this story.

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