Is proposed Southold riding academy agriculture or commerce?

Neighbors of a proposed riding academy on Ackerly Pond Lane in Southold aren’t happy with the prospect of a large new facility, which they fear would introduce a commercial atmosphere into a residential area.

The plan is currently before both the Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board.

The 10-acre property, currently a horse farm, is owned by William Bergrath, but Brian Glenn and Lucille Sullivan of Riverhead plan to buy the farm, which has a small farmhouse and three barns. They plan to add a 14,400-square-foot indoor arena and a 5,200-square-foot barn.

The proposal would require a special exemption permit and a variance from the Zoning Board, in addition to site plan review by the Planning Board. Although the ZBA could vote on the variance as soon as next month, the special exemption permit awaits review by the Planning Board, which is leading the environmental review. A public hearing before the Planning Board is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 17, at 6 p.m.

In documents submitted with their applications, Mr. Glenn and Ms. Sullivan said they intend to board 10 horses on the site, but neighbors are skeptical that such a large facility will house just 10 animals.

“Miss Sullivan and Mr. Glenn are planning to invest over $1 million in the purchase of the property and then invest hundreds of thousands more for the proposed buildings,” said neighbors Edwin and Nancy Ward in a letter to the ZBA opposing the project.

“Therefore, it’s likely that the figures that Miss Sullivan presented at the hearing to describe the volume of business that she expects are much lower than the actual numbers that the residential neighborhood will experience if the business is allowed to proceed as planned.”

Ms. Sullivan said she and Mr. Glenn plan to be better neighbors than the property’s current owners. She said they and their environmental consultants submitted a detailed report to the ZBA last week on how they plan to improve the property.

“Most of the neighbors’ concerns center around the current management. We’ve submitted a comprehensive plan to clean up and renovate the property,” she said, adding that the plan includes details about manure disposal, repairing fences and other neighborhood concerns.

Neighbor Mary Peters purchased one of three three-acre lots that were subdivided from the farm in 1991. She said part of the attraction of moving there was the proximity to a farm she believed would never be built up.

“I don’t understand why the board is even entertaining this,” she said. “In 1991, the Planning Board said over and over that they must maintain the open space.”

Ms. Peters said she paid $5,000 for a conservation easement on the side of her property facing the horse farm, in part to ensure that the area would retain its rural character.

“We’re all for horses and agriculture,” she said. “I’ll take dust, flies and the smell of manure, but a horse does not produce a riding lesson. That’s commerce, not agriculture. I can grow potatoes on my property. Does that mean I should apply for a potato chip factory?”

Also at issue for three neighbors, including the Wards and Ms. Peters, is a common driveway that they all share, which also serves as the access road to the horse farm. Ms. Peters said that children frequently play in the driveway, which she is afraid will now be used by many students of the riding academy, as well as 18-wheeler supply trucks.

The applicants do not have enough property to run a riding academy without a ZBA variance. According to Southold’s zoning laws, one use is permitted per 10 acres of agricultural land. A farm and a riding academy would be two separate uses.

Ms. Sullivan said she believes that she and Mr. Glenn will make the neighborhood a better place.

“We intend to be a responsible neighbor,” she said in a letter to the Zoning Board. “It is our belief that, over time, the neighbors will come to experience an overall improvement in the property and the quality of their lives.”

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