Deep Hole Creek preservation is near thanks to major community fundraising effort

After an outpouring of community support, Peconic Land Trust has made plans to close on the purchase of 15 acres of waterfront property in Mattituck in coming weeks.

The land trust intends to become “interim owner” of the property, with hopes to sell the land to a conservation buyer who will potentially cultivate the land, according to its website. The purchase will be partially funded by $625,000 in donations raised by community members, after learning at a series of public hearings over the winter that the property was poised to become a seven-lot subdivision.

“It’s never too late to explore a conservation opportunity,” said Alison Delaney, development officer at Peconic Land Trust. “This was in public hearings, which if community members and myself and my colleagues were pessimists, we might have said it’s too little too late. But the community didn’t say that and the land trust didn’t say that.”

She added that the conservation efforts came to fruition through hard work, a willing seller and collaboration with the town. “And in this particular case, it was really the community’s strong desire to see this have a conservation outcome that really propelled this project forward,” she said.

Holly Sanford, project manager at Peconic Land Trust, said a “major portion” of the 15-acre property has always been cultivated, although it’s fallow at the moment. The land trust hopes to perpetuate the land as a farm.

“There was an interest by the community to protect the land, initially as, we were thinking a park, but it was just too financially demanding to do it that way. We had to find some way to partner either with a municipality or with a conservation buyer,” she said. 

She said there’s a “little cottage there at the moment” and although the land isn’t currently being used to cultivate crops, the land trust hopes to “reassemble it as a farmstead, sell it to a farmer or prospective buyer who would be interested in either leaving the land fallow and open or cultivating it, [or] leasing it.”

Southold has set a public hearing for Nov. 30 to purchase development rights on the property at $69,000 per acre using Community Preservation Funds. Peconic Land Trust is not associated with CPF, a voter-approved 2% tax collected by East End towns on real estate transfers and used for open space and farmland protection programs.

The resolution setting the public hearing, approved at a town board meeting on Nov. 16, notes that the “exact area of the acquisition is subject to a Town-provided survey acceptable to the Land Preservation Committee and the property owner.” The total cost is estimated at $821,100 for the 11.9-acre easement, below the value indicated in the town’s commissioned appraisal, according to the resolution. The purchase price will be adjusted at closing based on the final survey acreage determination plus acquisition costs, it says. 

“The preservation was made possible by two groups, and that was a group of very committed people in that area and Peconic Land Trust,” Supervisor Scott Russell said. “The town’s happy to play its part to purchase development rights and further the goals and the accomplishments of both of those groups.”

Ms. Delaney said the parcel’s location along New Suffolk Avenue, an “iconic road on the North Fork,” is one of the reasons it stands out to the community. The combination of neighborhood developments, historic homes and preserved land along the approximate 3.5-mile stretch from Main Road to New Suffolk Beach helps make it “unique.”

“It stands out as both developed and sort of a part of modern history, as well as a look back to what agriculture and historic homes were for the North Fork,” she said. “Because so many people live in the neighborhoods off of New Suffolk Avenue, and because so many people like that as a scenic drive down to the waterfront, and it is the last large parcel that’s undeveloped on the creek, I think it just stood out.”

She added that donations came in from people across the North Fork, beyond Mattituck and the immediate area. 

“I think people feel like they want to see the North Fork community come together, you know, as they have in the past and hopefully will in the future, to preserve what we have left,” she said. “Each time that we don’t stand up and try to come up with a conservation option … it’s another parcel that perhaps goes to commercial development, or residential development.”

Ms. Sanford said the community seems to hope that whoever takes possession of the parcel in the future will maintain a low-impact property. Additionally, it’s near Deep Hole Creek so “there’s a water quality aspect to the project as well,” she said. 

The property was listed at $3.1 million, according to Ms. Delaney. Peconic Land Trust declined to share the purchase price. The land trust took out a line of credit to fund the rest of the purchase, beyond community donations. A donor is covering the cost of interest. 

“So basically, those are the three funding sources that will be used to close on this, then the land trust will become the interim owner and our plan will be to sell it to someone, to a conservation buyer,” Ms. Delaney said. “It’ll be restricted land at that point.”

Ms. Sanford said the project was “very unlikely”; she emphasized that it was propelled by community members making donations, writing letters and distributing information.

“It’s only because of the community interest and support that it really got the momentum it has, and hopefully it will come to fruition and it will be part and parcel to the community’s involvement,” she said.

Peconic Land Trust hopes to raise another $280,000 for the project by the end of the year.