Madonna, the Queen of Pop, is a farmer. As with most of her ventures, her entry into agriculture is not without controversy.
There’s a 24-acre plot next to the Material Girl’s estate in the Hamptons, the chic enclave for the rich and famous at the outer end of New York’s Long Island. She bought it for $2.2 million.
Which would have been a steal in those environs, had local governments not purchased the development rights from the Grabowski family, who once grew potatoes there, in 2010 for $10 million. The land came with restrictions that keep Madonna from building, and require that the property be used for “production for commercial purposes of agricultural products.”
Last year planning officials approved her plans to create a nursery, and recently crews have been planting Leyland Cypress, eastern white pines and Robusta juniper. That crop will reduce the tax bill on the parcel to less than $2,300. If she has $10,000 in sales over two years, the bill drops to under $300.
So Madonna is a nurseryman and her neighbors don’t like it.
According to the tabloids, critics around Suffolk County, including some farmers, think it’s all a sham. They note that had the original owners sold the property with all rights in tact, the acreage would have sold for $17.5 million and the tax bill would have been north of $150,000 a year.
Madonna, they say, is stealing from local taxpayers — her fellow millionaires. Besides, they claim she isn’t really planting a nursery, she’s building a forest to block the view from the road to her estate.
Here we rise to Madonna’s defense. These development easements are a common tool that has become ever more popular in the West to keep land in farm or forest. The town made the original deal to keep the land from being sliced up for more mansions.
The Grabowski family accepted the town’s offer and must have agreed with its goals. Whether she’s an honest farmer or a wealthy star who can afford to guard her privacy, Madonna paid the family a bundle for a piece of land that came with some fairly restrictive covenants that prevent her from exploiting its true economic potential.
As long as all parties make their choice freely, we think these type of deals are a perfect way for farmers to realize the value of their property while keeping it in some type of productive use.
One might legitimately argue that agriculture property tax breaks should go only to “real” farmers producing true commercial crops. We could go for that. But until then, Madonna and thousands of other landed gentry who meet the statutory requirements are entitled to whatever tax benefit their state allows.
A thin premise on which to base an editorial, but likely our only chance to feature Madonna on these pages.