Pictured Above: Overlooking Indian Island County Park from the Broad Cove property | photo courtesy Peconic Land Trust
The largest privately owned unprotected property on the Peconic Estuary, a 100-acre former duck farm in Aquebogue, was recently purchased by the Peconic Land Trust, preventing the property from becoming a resort hotel.
The property sits alongside Flanders Bay, a long-impaired embayment at the mouth of the Peconic River, just north of Indian Island County Park, between Meetinghouse Creek and Terry Creek.
The Celic family began the Broad Cove Duck Farm there in the 1930s, and their operation continued until the 1970s.
Until late last fall, there were 22 crumbling buildings on the site, including duck brooder barns, a machine shop and a massive, concrete duck processing plant adjacent to nine acres of lagoons dug around the property during its time as a duck farm, said Andreas Weisz, managing partner of Walo, LLC, whose grandfather, Stanley Weisz, became involved as a lender on the property in the early 1980s, eventually taking ownership of it in the year 2000.
“My whole life, I always heard “the duck farm, the duck farm,” said Mr. Weisz on a mid-February walk through the property with PLT Project Manager Julie Wesnofske and PLT Events & Design manager Bridget Micieli-Martinez.
Walo, LLC had begun working with a potential hotel developer and had submitted a proposal to Riverhead Town to build out the site as a mixed-use resort when Ms. Wesnofske approached Mr. Weisz about a potential conservation sale in January of 2021.
Six anonymous conservation supporters have since loaned the Peconic Land Trust $11.5 million for the purchase, along with $500,000 for carrying costs, and the Land Trust has had conversations with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation about partnering to continue to protect the property, said Ms. Wesnofske.
The Land Trust acquired the property on December 31, 2021.
Mr. Weisz’s family spent about $400,000 in the fall of 2021 removing the decaying buildings from the land, which is now a vacant expanse of Long Island woodlands abutting the bay.
“It all worked out and we’re happy about it,” he said.
The Land Trust envisions in the future that the property will have hiking trails and serve as a destination for kayakers, said Ms. Micieli-Martinez, though at the moment they’re focused on the environmental benefits of having this property returned to its natural state.
“It’s in very good shape. Mother Nature did her job very well over the years,” said Ms. Wesnofske. “There are very few properties zoned for Tourism/Resort Campus in Riverhead that meet the criteria for that use, which is only allowed on acreage over 50 acres.”
About a quarter of the property — 25 acres — is tidal wetlands, but Mr. Weisz said that much of the property is 12 feet above sea level and does not flood in storms.
“We commend our colleagues at the Peconic Land Trust for their work to protect this one-of-a-kind parcel,” said DEC Acting Regional Director Cathy Haas in a statement accompanying the announcement of the sale. “For decades the Broad Cove property has topped government acquisition lists, including New York State’s Open Space Conservation Plan. This acquisition is a great step toward permanent protection of a landmark property and DEC looks forward to continuing to work with Peconic Land Trust in their ongoing work.”
The property is within the New York State-designated Peconic Pineland Maritime Reserve, and has been included in every New York State Open Space Conservation Plan since the original in 1992 through the most recent in 2016.
“We are thankful to the people of Walo, LLC for working with us to see a conservation outcome for this incredible property,” said John v.H. Halsey, President, Peconic Land Trust. “We also thank our supporters for stepping up at this time to loan the Trust the funding to complete the acquisition quickly. By acting when we did, we were able to secure the conservation future that has eluded this property for so long.”
“Over the past six months, as we were working out the details, I’ve spent so much time walking the land and have come to appreciate how special it is – peaceful, and the crystal-clear waters of the canals,” said Mr. Weisz. “Ideally, this is what this land should be – a nature preserve and a place for people to come and enjoy the woods, the water. I look forward to visiting in the future with my family.”
“Our family is thrilled with this outcome,” he added. ”My grandfather always wanted to see the land preserved.… We see this as his legacy, his pride and joy.”