A long-awaited decision was reached by the Southampton Town Planning Board Thursday in a dispute between “Today” host Matt Lauer and his neighbor at his Water Mill horse farm - but both sides said the fight was far from over.
The conflict stems from a plan Lauer submitted to the town last summer to plant 42 trees and dozens of shrubs on his 40-acre Bright Side Farm to prevent the horses from being “spooked” by activities and noise around the swimming pool of his neighbors, Jack and Jodi Wasserman.
During a public hearing on the proposal held last year, the Wassermans opposed the plan, saying trees would block their view of Lauer’s “bucolic” farm and violate restrictions on the property.
One of the Wasserman’s attorneys, Patrick Fife, of Riverhead, said previously that the planting of large trees would violate the site plan and property restrictions that prohibit farm landscaping that would obstruct the Wasserman’s “open views.”
Revised plans were submitted by Lauer and after months of extensions for board members to make a decision, they approved a modified proposal that would allow Lauer to plant low lying bushes but no tall trees.
Lauer, who had attended previous meetings and had testified before the board, was overseas so he was not there for the decision. But his wife, Annette Rogue and the Wassermans were. All referred any media questions to their attorneys.
“They [the planning board] compromised to low lying bushes but that still will obscure the views and it’s still not compliant with the covenant,” said another Wasserman attorney, Martin Finnegan, of Riverhead, outside the town hall planning board meeting after the decision was reached.
Finnegan said the Wassermans “will challenge the planning board determination and seek to have it annulled in Supreme Court.”
Lauer’s attorney, Timothy McCulley, of Southampton, said he would have to speak with Lauer to determine exactly what happens next but he too said the planning board’s decision was unacceptable.
“It’s a process like everything else and everyone has a chance to be heard,” McCulley said after the determination was reached. He said that only planting low lying bushes does not meet the needs of the horse farm.
McCulley said he expected to take the case to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, which enforces laws relating to agriculture, horticulture, farm, fruit and dairy products.
Before voting in favor of the revised plan, planning board member Jacqui Lofaro said, “It seems to me the lower bushes accomplish unobstructed views.”
Also before voting for the plan another planning board member, Philip Keith, told McCulley he could come back before the board with another proposal “at any time.”
“Why would I?” McCulley asked.