Behind a new white fence on an attractive $5 million horse farm on Mitchell Lane in Bridgehampton, a hedge of green privet grows in the bright, hot sun.
Its a bucolic scene in Hampton’s Horse Country, where farms and corrals dot the landscape. It is also the scene of an East End summer controversy. Madonna owns the farm.
Later this month, a special county agricultural committee will meet to decide if it should give retroactive approval to the fence at Wild Horse Farm. Later, they will meet again to rule on the fate of the plants.
Under Southampton’s zoning code, the fence is perfectly legal. Any homeowner can put up a four-foot fence in their front yard, and any horse farm can have the same kind of fence. Most do.
But, years ago, Suffolk County and Southampton Town purchased the development rights on the farm, which meant residential homes could no longer be built on the land, and which lowered its property value and taxes.
And, the county used money from a special fund collected on new home sales and used exclusively to preserve open space.
Because the county insists on approving all construction on any property purchased with open space funds, County Planning Commissioner Thomas Isles wrote a letter to Southampton Town demanding that a stop work order be issued on Madonna’s new fence.
That order was issued on July 7. The county farmland committee is expected to review the fence at its next regular meeting, on July 27.
The privet hedge is another matter, a philosophical one: Can the land be considered open space if no one can see it?
“I would think people should be able to look at it,” said Southampton town councilwoman Bridget Fleming, giving a personal — not an official — opinion.
Under a broad New York State law designed to protect farmers and farm operations, barns and warehouses can be built on farmland, irrigation pumps can run 24 hours a day, and small airstrips can be operated for crop dusting. A horse farm in the Hamptons even built an arena for spectators, so polo ponies could be trained and get used to crowd noises.
Isles says Madonna’s privet hedge might be considered a windbreak, which would be a legitimate farm use. Or, it might be considered a privacy fence, which would not be legal and would have to be removed. “You would have to be sure it (the privet) has an agricultural purpose,” Isles said. “Those screens require approval before installation.”
He said that, if the farmland committee ultimately rules the privet is a privacy screen, not a windbreak, the county could order the plants removed.
A spokeswoman for Madonna did not return a call for comment.