If Thursday’s public hearing before the Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals is any indication, Showalter Farms’ proposal to open a riding academy on Main Road in Mattituck might take longer to receive approvals than it once seemed.
ZBA chairperson Leslie Kanes Weisman opted to keep open the public hearing on a proposed special exception to operate the academy after more than a half-dozen neighbors spoke out in opposition to the proposal.
Of particular concern for residents was an advertisement placed in the May 14 issue of Today’s Equestrian that boasted more features on the farm than what is currently being proposed, and language in the site plan description that calls the proposal “phase one.”
While the proposed site plan currently before the Southold Town Planning Board calls for three barns and an outdoor riding ring on four unpreserved acres of the property — the development rights on the other 20 acres were purchased by the town in 2011 — the advertisement includes language about an indoor arena and an obstacle field.
Ray Nemschick of Cutchogue, the architect for property owners Christopher and Joanne Showalter of Southold, told the Planning Board Tuesday that the advertisement was placed without his clients’ knowledge by lessees of the property. Mr. Nemschick said Thursday that no lease was actually in place yet and that he believed the advertisement was irrelevant to the proceedings before the board.
But Ms. Weisman said the ad “has cast some doubt on this process.”
“There’s a perception that people are unsure about this application,” she said, citing questions from residents over how the academy will run, by whom and how all of the amenities featured in the ad might be introduced in the future on just four acres of unpreserved land.
She said that considering those concerns, the hearing should be left open while the ZBA “sorts this out.”
“There’s a lot going on here and I think the board might need to think some more,” Ms. Weisman said.
She did, however, acknowledge that the state Department of Agriculture and Markets has already stated in a letter to the town that it believes a special exception is not necessary for the property in a right-to-farm town. Ms. Weisman said the town, as a local jurisdiction, has still opted to require a special exception.
“But ag and markets is a very powerful organization in the State of New York,” she said.
The Showalters were both present at the meeting but did not speak, answering questions instead through Mr. Nemschick. Several speakers expressed frustration about the lack of a dialogue between neighbors, with one man accusing the farm owners of “not being transparent.”
When reached by phone following the meeting, Mr. Showalter said he and his wife are looking to set up a meeting with the residents of Gabriella Court, as one of his neighbors suggested during Thursday’s meeting.
“This way we can outline for everyone what’s going on,” he said. “We’re going to try to have someone mediate that for us. We’re currently looking to find a location and a date for it. We’ll do it in the evening, so people do not have to take off from work.”
Ms. Weisman told the audience she felt better line of communication will improve the process.
“It’s much better for everyone’s sake when the larger picture is before everyone,” she said.
Mr. Showalter said after the meeting that he felt Ms. Weisman did a “sterling job” chairing the meeting and he felt the board treated the farm owners fairly.
He said ultimately the phasing of the project comes down to economics.
“The property was in a great state of disrepair when we bought it,” he said. ” We’re in the process of rehabbing the northern paddocks, which have been fallow for eight to 10 years.
“I can assure you we’re not looking to do anything nefarious. We can’t afford to do any second phase right now.”
The ZBA will continue the hearing at its next meeting, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 21.