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Hardy2
September 06, 2006

Towns Vote to Extend "Godsend"


During the past 20 years, few lawmakers have spoken about open space preservation without mentioning the race to acquire land and beat private developers to the checkbook.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele did more than just talk. He authored landmark legislation creating the Community Preservation Fund, which uses a two percent real estate transfer tax to generate revenue for the purchase of pristine properties. Since it went into effect in 1999 after overwhelming success in a referendum the preceding November, the CPF has raised $375 million for the preservation of land in the five East End towns. The Town of East Hampton alone just passed the $100 million mark this year; Southampton Town topped $214 million.

But the money will run out before all the desired land is protected. And the race is still on.

So Thiele is making the rounds, gathering support for an extension of the transfer tax. If successful, Thiele's measure would create a ballot referendum on the extension this November. On Friday he appeared before the East Hampton Town Board, asking members to endorse a home rule message in support of extending the tax to the year 2030. Currently, it's set to expire in 2020. That's not for another 14 years, so why seek an extension? Thiele explained that the added decade will allow towns to borrow, often at low interest, against future revenue, and buy more land now.

Co-sponsored with North Fork Assemblyman Mark Alessi and Senator Ken LaValle, if the measure is adopted, it could mean as much as $900 million more for land preservation; $200 million in the Town of East Hampton alone.

During a hearing on the extension in East Hampton, Councilwoman Deb Foster lauded Thiele's work to date as "a godsend." Representatives from the Group for the South Fork and the Nature Conservancy of Long Island weighed in with wholehearted support, as did Brian Frank from the town planning department. A member of the town's CPF committee, he reported the benefits of the CPF "have been immeasurable," and opined the CPF's extension "is as important now as it was when it was first adopted." 

The town board agreed, voting in favor of placing the extension before the voters this fall.

In Southampton, the town board similarly embraced the concept of extending the CPF at a public hearing also held last Friday.

According to Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney, since 1999, the CPF has generated over $214 million in revenues, resulting in over $210 million in purchases for 169 acquisitions totaling over 2261 acres.

"Clearly, this is the number one policy success any of the East End towns has seen in their ongoing efforts to preserve natural resources," said Heaney.

The supervisor said properties preserved as a result of the CPF include oceanside parcels that have been retained for historic value.

Councilman Steve Kenny pointed out that the CPF "has been a tremendous success" in preserving public green space in areas such as Conscience Point.

While supporting the extension, Councilwoman Linda Kabot reminded the efforts of Councilman Chris Nuzzi, who has long proposed a modification to the transfer tax law that would allow an exemption for first-time homeowners. Kabot said Thiele had promised to take a look at language changes that would allow for such an exemption in the future.

Kevin McDonald, director of public land for the Nature Conservancy, said the CPF is critical to preserving what's left of rapidly dwindling natural resources. "We're literally running out of time."

Both Riverhead and Southold will hold public hearings regarding the CPF extension this week. "I am confident that the voters of Southold will support the extension," said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell. "Anyone who embraces our preservation effort understands that we are in it for the long haul. Our goals will not be met overnight but over years, and a financing stream to fund our future efforts is essential."

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