Court Rules That Raising and Selling Polo Horses Constitutes Permissible “Agricultural Production” under State and Local Law

In the case entitled “Town of Southampton v. Equus Associates, Ltd., 201 A.D.2d 210 (2nd Dept 1994)”, the Town of Southampton sought to permanently enjoin the tenant’s use of the 65 acre subject property for raising, training and selling polo ponies.

In 1982, the property owner had sold the development rights to the Town pursuant to an indenture, retaining only the right to use the property for “agricultural production as that term [was then] defined in Section 301 of the New York State Agricultural and Markets law.”

The lower court found that the use was unauthorized based on a 1981 amendment to the Town Code which added “horseback riding academies” and “horse stabling facilities” to the list of permitted uses not alienated by the sale of development rights. The court reasoned that because the 1981 amendment was not incorporated into the 1982 indenture, the parties did not intend to include it. The lower court also relied on an opinion of State Board of Equalization and Assessment.

The Second Department reversed the lower court, finding that the “breeding of horses has long been considered an important agricultural interest of New York.” At the time the indenture was signed, the Agricultural and Market law included horse production within the definition of Agricultural Production. The court also cited to a previous case which held that breeding thoroughbred horses was agricultural production. The Court also found that the proposed use did not “violate, subvert or frustrate” the purpose of the Town’s Farmland Preservation program. To that end, the Court noted that the barn floors would be dirt, the barns would occupy only a small fraction of the large estate, and the vast remainder of the property would be used for open paddocks, thereby satisfying the Town’s goal of maintaining open spaces and agricultural purposes.

The court also noted that the opposition’s only articulated concern, namely that the tenant would erect a large polo stadium and host large events which would turn the community into a parking lot, was unfounded because a polo stadium was not permitted under the Town Code.

Based on the foregoing, the Appellate Court reversed the Supreme Court, granted the Petition, annulled the Town’s decision and granted the construction permit subject to any “appropriate conditions” imposed by the Town.

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