By Mara Certic
At its last meeting of the summer, the Noyac Civic Council this week invited two local politicians to discuss the past and future of what many say is the law keeping overdevelopment in check on the East End—the Community Preservation Fund.
Since 1999, 2 percent of almost every real estate sale in the five East End towns has gone into a special fund reserved to preserving land for farming, open space, recreation and parks and historical designation within the townships.
When the fund was created, politicians “woefully underestimated” how much money the community preservation fund would collect, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said on Tuesday night, adding that over 16 years, $1 billion has been generated.
“One billion dollars is a lot of money,” the assemblyman said, “And the five East End towns collectively spend more on preservation than the state does statewide.”
Assemblyman Thiele said that often when he speaks in schools, he tries to give students an idea of just how much $1 billion is.
“If you had $1 billion, and you spent $1,000 a day from the day Christ was born until today, you’d still have 25 percent of your money,” he said, adding that the fund has played a huge part in helping conservation keep in line with the pace of development on both forks.
When the fund was developed, he explained, one of the assumptions was that protecting the land would help to protect and preserve water as well. Unfortunately, instead across Long Island residents are seeing a continual degradation of their water quality. Assemblyman Thiele mentioned recent reports of Brown Tide, Rust Tide and toxic blue-green algae: “It’s like having a box of Crayola crayons, there’s a new color tide at all times,” he said.
In response to the steady decline of local water quality, Mr. Thiele recently worked on two amendments to the community preservation law, which just passed in the State Legislature. One of them would extend the expiration date of the CPF from 2030 to 2050. Another would allow the town to use a portion of the funds to pay for water quality improvement programs, he explained.
The legislation must be signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo before the towns can take the amendments to the public for a referendum, Mr. Thiele explained. He said the changes to the laws would likely be on the ballot in November 2016.
Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said at Tuesday’s meeting that the town is “ahead of the curve” when it comes to mapping its services and that by the time the referendum goes to the voters, “we will be in very good shape to start spending the money.” Residents will be presented with a list of possible water quality projects ahead of any referendum, they said.
Councilwoman Fleming said that while seven new state-of-the-art septic systems have just been approved in a pilot program sponsored by Suffolk County, denitrification systems for single-family houses are still too expensive. But, she said, as soon as the funding becomes available, the industry will be able to start turning its wheels.
In Southampton Town, for years the preserving farmland was a priority of CPF spending. In recent years, the town has written laws to ensure that land stays farmed, rather than becoming unused, rolling lawns.
Even more recently, however, as the number of vacant lots in the town dwindles, the Southampton Town Board has refocused its attentions and recently began spending more money on historic preservation too, Ms. Fleming said.
Earlier that day, the Southampton Town Board purchased the lot in Southampton Village where the Pyrrhus Concer house once stood. When the property was sold and the developers expressed their wishes to demolish the centuries old house of the freed slave who worked on whaleboats, a group of preservationists meticulously took the house apart piece by piece. Now that the town has managed to buy the land, the building will be put back together again where it belongs.
When Chip Dyke, a resident of Millstone Road, suggested that the CPF drove up real estate prices, Assemblyman Thiele jumped in.
“There’s always a myth out there that preserving land increase land value,” he said. “We just happen to live in one of the most unique real estate markets.”