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Over $550,000 raised as conservation buyer sought for Mattituck waterfront property

Money talks. Dollars are speaking loudly in the interest of preserving 15 acres of waterfront property in Mattituck.

Over $555,000 in pledge money has been raised from over 60 donors toward the aim of trying conserve the property at the southeast corner of Marratooka Road and New Suffolk Avenue. Roughly $500,000 of that money was pledged since April 1, said Peconic Land Trust development officer Alison Delaney. According to the land trust, this is the last parcel of undeveloped property along Deep Hole Creek, an entryway to Peconic Bay.

The property’s owner, listed in Southold Town documents as Koehler Family Limited Partnership, was granted conditional final approval from the town’s planning department June 9 for a standard subdivision of seven lots. The asking price for the property is reportedly $3.3 million.

Meanwhile, the land trust, spearheading an effort to protect the property from development, made what it called a conditional offer to the sellers a few weeks ago. It’s a creative three-pronged approach said to involve the town, the trust and a so-called conservation buyer. Under that proposed scenario, a conservation buyer would purchase the property and retain two acres for a house while the remaining 13 acres would be protected in perpetuity by the town’s purchase of development rights, said Peconic Land Trust project manager Holly Sanford. Those 13 acres could be used or leased for agricultural purposes.

Specific details of the proposal, such as the breakdown in costs to the town and a conservation buyer (who has not been found yet), were not cited, given the delicacy of ongoing talks.

“The sources of the money are the town, the conservation buyer and the community,” Ms. Sanford said. “That’s where the finances are coming from. The percentages, we’re not quite sure yet.”

John Koehler, in response to emailed questions from The Suffolk Times, said he has “2 to 3” potential buyers lined up and would like to sell the property “ASAP”. He declined to detail the status of talks with the other parties but indicated that the land trust’s offer is feasible.

“The talks are ongoing,” Rita Rooney, a real agent for Koehler Family Limited Partnership, wrote in an email. “The seller’s [sic] have agreed to extend the time frame for the Peconic Land Trust to continue to raise money and find a conservation buyer.”

She added: “We are encouraged by the community efforts. At first, it didn’t seem feasible, but the efforts have shown it seems doable.”

The nonprofit Peconic Land Trust, established in 1983, has helped conserve over 13,000 acres of land, securing millions of dollars from the public and private sectors for land protection. The idea of a conservation buyer is not new.

“The Peconic Land Trust works with conservation buyers all the time,” Ms. Sanford said. “These are people who, you know, have means or they have direct farming interests, but the overarching interest is conservation, and so we’ve worked with conservation buyers in the past that buy land and they only develop a small piece of it and they promise to protect the rest of it.”

The community response to the land trust’s call for pledges can be seen as a statement in itself.

“It tells me two things, right?” Ms. Delaney said. “It tells me that we have a generous community. We have people that are giving $50 upwards and in excess of $100,000, so it’s really on all levels, but it also tells me that people want this parcel preserved. It shows us that conservation is a strong priority in Southold Town.”

Land trust officials said the owner has been receptive and the town has been supportive of its proposal.

“The town is looking forward to partnering with the Peconic Land Trust to hopefully purchase this property,” said the town’s land preservation coordinator, Melissa Spiro. She said it would be “a partnership to preserve the property. All the pieces need to come together. The town’s potential purchase of the development rights is one piece of that puzzle.”

The town has appraised the property, but Ms. Spiro said she couldn’t share the appraisal value. If the project moves forward, she said, there would be a public hearing on drawing money from a Community Preservation Fund.

“I think all parties are operating with a common goal here, to benefit the community and to honor what the community is requesting, which is to preserve what we have,” said Ms. Delaney. She added: “I certainly feel a lot more optimistic today on, what is it, June 30th. Then again, I’m probably an eternal optimist as a fundraiser.”

This matter was brought before the land trust by the community in January. Ms. Sanford said the next two or three months could see a final resolution.

“It was a very condensed process,” she said. “Usually something like this will take a year or two, sometimes longer.”

She added: “We hope that [the three parties] can come together and financially meet the goals of the seller. And I hope that the seller, with their conservation-mindedness as well, can work with us and accept a reasonable offer for a conservation outcome. That would be lovely.”