I often get asked whether I think the Hamptons will ever resemble a suburb, and I get weekly calls from clients and friends lamenting that “things are being too built up!” I can say that by studying real estate and the burdens placed on East End land over the past ten plus years, this statement and others like it are not based in fact. The priority of Hamptons land preservation is largely due to the hyper-vigilance of our Planning Boards and, importantly, the foresight of land stewards who preceded us.
What does it mean when your broker or lawyer tells you that the property you wish to purchase is on land that abuts an “ag reserve?” You will likely pay a premium to own this property, but why, and what does it really mean? Can there be houses built on the “ag reserve” that would obstruct your view and change the entire feeling of the property? Can the neighbor on the “ag reserve” erect sleeping quarters for workers? Can they install a cornfield? Will the land smell from animal feed or fertilization? Are there restrictions for the use of pesticides and herbicides on the “ag reserve,” and if not, have the risks been evaluated? These are generally the concerns of prospective purchasers.
The idea of an “ag reserve” can be a daunting concept for someone who has never owned a piece of land before other than a condominium – where their biggest concern may be the common charges! As a general matter, since “ag reserves” are burdened by a host of title restrictions, the owner should expect the benefits, i.e. views, a country feel, more natural light, that go along with the bucolic essence of the East End. However, these lands are [often] actively farmed; therefore, the smell from the farms may waft into your property. You may also get noise from tractors tilling the soil – again an aspect of farm life one might either find charming or agitating, depending on personal preferences.
The truth is, there is a significant amount of East End land burdened (or benefited, depending on whose eyes you’re looking at it from) by Agricultural Easements. By now, you have all heard this term, but many still remain unclear as to its implications. Here is an excerpt from an easement that I read recently. It says, in pertinent part:
“…the area will forever be restricted to some or all of the following…farming operations, including greenhouses..soil preparation, cultivation, irrigation, all other farming operations…and the use of farm vehicles…all as designed and intended to promote and enhance agricultural production.”
These documents often go on to discuss the specific types of field crops that may be grown. The negotiation of this document is often a condition for subdivision approval. This is where skilled preservationists and hard work by local planning boards has been key. As a result of their work and dedication, unlike in most suburban areas, much of the land in the Hamptons is forever preserved for farming operations or is preserved as woodlands. In my opinion, it’s what keeps the East End special and in such high demand. Yes, we live in an architectural laboratory with homes unlike anywhere else in the world. And our [weekend] social culture, which has been built around our extraordinary beaches and renowned hamlets, is utterly unique. However, it’s often our preserved open spaces, reminding us of an agricultural heritage, which attracts people to the area…both because the open spaces are breathtaking, and because, whether our home abuts an “ag preserve” or not, we’re able to enjoy an authentic farm to table lifestyle, which is the antithesis of city life that beckons just one hundred miles to our west.
Adam M. Miller has practiced real estate law on the East End for over thirteen years. His real estate boutique firm, The Adam Miller Group, is located in Bridgehampton and his clients are primarily Manhattan based. Visit the Adam Miller Group website.