In the biggest charitable gift ever made to the Peconic
Land Trust, multimillionaire funds trader Louis Bacon has given away almost all
of his legal rights to build homes on the largest single piece of waterfront
property still privately owned in Southampton.
Bacon has donated a conservation easement on Cow Neck Farm - a 540-acre
farm on Peconic Bay - to the Land Trust, a private, nonprofit land preservation
organization. In doing so, he has kept the right to build just five private
Under current zoning, he could have built one house on every three acres.
Southampton Supervisor Vincent Cannuscio estimates the value of the land
easement at around $50 million. Cannuscio said that does not include the added
value for waterfront property in the Hamptons, where even modest shoreline
estates commonly sell for millions of dollars each.
"This is the largest remaining block of undeveloped land within the town,"
Cannuscio said. "It's a magnificent gift ... It will have an enduring and
lasting impact on the community. It is a place of beauty."
Cow Neck Farm, once known as the "Port of Missing Men," was created in the
1920s and '30s by the father of Peter Salm, whose great-grandfather, Harry
Huddleston Rogers II, was chief financial officer of Standard Oil and one of
the richest men in the Hamptons.
He bought enough small parcels of land to total 1,200 acres, and while much
of it has been sold off, the 540 acres making up Cow Neck Farm ended up in the
hands of the Salm family, which kept it as a hunting lodge.
Bacon bought the land from the Salm estate after the last member of the
family died two years ago. The property has more than a mile of shoreline,
steep bluffs, tidal and freshwater wetlands, and other natural resources.
While the town has looked into preserving a part of the property, local
officials decided they could not afford it. Bacon had been approached by
developers who wanted to construct homes or a golf course on the land, but
turned down all offers, including one from Donald Trump.
Cow Neck Farm is about a mile south of Robins Island - the largest
privately owned uninhabited island in the northeast - which Bacon purchased in
1997 to use as a summer retreat.
Bacon gave a similar conservation easement on the 435-acre Robins Island to
the Nature Conservancy, and has given away to a third easement on a third
property near Cow Neck Farm, a 30-acre plot on Little Sebonac Creek known as
"This [Cow Neck Farm] is a trophy parcel. It's probably one of the most
valuable parcels on Long Island that is still in private hands," said Bacon's
attorney, Kevin Law. "There aren't many other properties around that are like
Law said Bacon, who manages a $2-billion investment fund and avoids public
appearances, has taken steps to put a new roof on a decaying barn at Cow Neck
Farm, and is making other small improvements to some of the homes there.
"There are over 25 structures on the property, including three
single-family structures for gameskeepers and other key employees...you need to
have a presence on a property of this size," Law said.
Aside from some private hunts, the only other regular activity at Cow Neck
Farm are polo matches, on a field Bacon built there a year ago.