19 October 2016
A recent piece by David Winzleberg in the Long Island Business News, “Spaced Out,” which attacked the East End towns’ Community Preservation Fund (CPF), demands a response.
As president of the North Fork Environmental Council (NFEC) and vice-chair of the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation’s Citizen Advisory Council (CAC) for the North Fork Preserve, it’s clear that Mr. Winzleberg both failed to research and share some basic facts.
Simply put, the CPF is a success on many levels. Not all of the benefits and hoped for results can be seen or measured at this point. Unlike a commercial effort, success is not easily measured in dollars but is measured by both short- and long-term sense. And as with any program, the CPF is a work in progress, undergoing scrutiny and refinement along the way. Are there problems? Of course there are some. But they are relatively few, are being addressed and don’t negate the wonderful and important work the CPF has done.
This article was nothing short of a pro-development advertorial. Instead of trashing the CPF, it should have praised East End residents’ vision and resolve to protect their natural resources, the basis of their economy, their well being, and their way of life. Residents have voted time and time again to put their money where their mouth is…to impose a small tax on real estate transactions in order to enable the East End towns to:
- preserve open space with the short- and long-term goals of maintaining the overall rural character of the region,
- help support affordable and responsible agricultural activities, and
- spearhead protection of the quality and quantity of our drinking water supplies and the marine waters which play such an important part of our tourism, as well as commercial and recreational fisheries.
This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. Land preservation works. Long Island’s most pristine waters lie beneath the protected Pine Barrens because of such preservation. Unfortunately for the East End, decades of old and failing septic systems, unrestricted use of lawn and garden fertilizers, and centuries of agricultural use have all contributed to the degradation of our waters. But with the CPF and the changes proposed and to be voted on this November, we have a proven and proper vehicle to make a positive difference over the coming years.
“Build, build, build,” is not an answer to ANY problem. Not only would our water quality issues be compounded 10 times over by aggressive development of these open spaces, our amount of available water would also be severely threatened. Over-pumping of water is already causing severe saltwater intrusion of our ground water in many places. More and deeper wells are drawing pollutants further down into our more pristine water sources. This cannot continue and the residents of the East End understand and appreciate these realities. And through the initial enactment and subsequent renewal of the CPF, they are helping to address these problems.
They also recognize the truth in a saying coined by the NFEC many years ago – The economy is our environment and the environment is our economy. A good economy means jobs, tax revenues and security. But the second half of the saying is key – the environment is our economy. Without our rural corridors, open spaces, family farms, clean waters and our commercial and recreational fisheries, there is no tourism, there is no economy. The CPF helps the East End protect its economy and its future, not destroy it.
And Mr. Winzleberg failed to recognize opportunities which are there for the taking. The development community and its supporting trades can reasonably reach full employment AND help Long Island’s environment. With some retraining, there are jobs to be had for the next 20 years in:
- supporting the switch over to hi-tech residential and commercial wastewater treatment systems,
- implementing energy-saving practices with installation of thermal windows, proper wall and ceiling insulation,
- installing next generation residential solar panels and solar windows, and
- preparing for grey water collection and re-use.
These items are just a few of the opportunities which can keep builders and the trades fully employed for decades without even building another new home. And still, new building is also necessary. Affordable housing remains an elusive goal, a goal the development community can help deliver with prudent planning of small, environmentally-friendly and cost-efficient projects which maximize the benefit to the entire community, not just a few bank accounts.
Mr. Winzleberg did point out some questionable purchases and practices under the CPF. One was the North Fork Preserve in Riverhead. What he failed to communicate, although he understands it quite well, is just as a developer has to go through several steps and hurdles in bringing a development plan to fruition, so must the county and the East End towns in executing plans for preserved lands. In fact, because these preserves are not profit generators such as a private development plans, they require even more judicious planning and execution.
Take the North Fork Preserve, for example. The proposed active and passive recreation uses cannot just appear overnight. They must undergo initial feasibility studies, preliminary design and planning, community hearings, formal planning, the SEQRA process, formal public hearings, budgeting and funding, and then phased execution…just like any other commercial or residential development plan.
Having served on the North Fork Preserve’s CAC and gone through presentations by the county and interested parties, as well as several public hearings for reaction to the proposed uses of this property, I can tell you that the CPF funds used and the associated process, which have been underway for over a year on this particular property, are working.
The county is acting in a prudent way as it addresses community issues but also seeks to allocate and use scarce county funding in the most cost-effective way. If only developers were so caring and careful in addressing community impacts in their projects, just as the farming community has helped to address our water issues with reduced use of pesticides, use of slow-release fertilizer, improved soil conservation practices and a move towards organic farming.
Many of the 50,000 acres preserved on the East End are fragile, one-of-a-kind properties which include wetlands, woodlands and grasslands which are critical to our ecosystem, to the birds and animals which call the East End home. Everyone, including the development community, should be praising these efforts and working with them, not against them. We can’t and shouldn’t build out every last acre of land on Long Island. There are so many abandoned, derelict and under-used commercial properties in old downtowns and along main roads that can and should be re-purposed before trying to take away beautiful and environmentally sensitive wetlands and open vistas many people have helped to protect for the right reasons.
This November, East End residents can once again send a clear message to Mr. Winzleberg and the development community by voting, “Yes” for the CPF extension. That message is: The value of our land is not just as another high-density development. Its value lies in protecting what we hold dear…our rural character, our open spaces, our natural resources, our clean water and our way of life. Say, “No” to, “Build. Build. Build.” and say, “Yes” to “Save. Protect. Preserve.”
William Toedter, NFEC President
Letters to the editor may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and telephone number, and don’t submit any letters under false names. The Beacon will print all letters that are not deemed to be defamatory or obscene, and may edit submissions for clarity and grammar.