It has cynically been said that “Today’s ‘environmentalist’ is someone who bought a home yesterday. I’m in, now close the gate!” Many of us know the desire of wanting privacy and beautiful surroundings, and we all know the feeling, especially on our scenic East End, of a house or a building going up on a vacant property that we used to admire. Or tall hedges or “green giants” being planted on a property that blocks the view we came to love. Grrrrr!
Having worked in real estate for the past 21 years, I see how “overlooking a preserve” can greatly impact the value of a property. ‘Farmviews’ is a magic word in the real estate business on the East End. Heck, I’ve known residents that have asked farmers not to plant corn because it grows to high and blocks their view! We’ve all heard the stories.
But there are some true champions of conservation among us. The Peconic Land Trust is one of them.
“The Peconic Land Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization,was established in 1983 by John v.H. Halsey and a small group of local residents to ensure the protection of Long Island’s working farms, natural lands, and heritage,” according to their website. “Since 1983, the Trust has worked diligently with landowners, communities, municipalities, and partner organizations to protect 12,000 acres of land, conserving more working farms on Long Island than any other private conservation organization, and securing millions of dollars from the public and private sector for land protection.”
And just to set the record straight, The Peconic Land Trust is NOT the recipient of the 2 percent closing tax paid when you buy a house or vacant lot here on the East End. That money goes to the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund (CPF), which was established by voter referendum in 1998. The money collected by the CPF is used by the five East End towns to preserve farmland by purchasing development rights from farmers. CPF funds are also used to preserve open space, create parks and to preserve historic buildings.
In 2016, a referendum passed that now allows each town to allocate 20 percent of their CPF money to water quality improvements, such as construction of public water mains and connections for residents with contaminated drinking water, public sewage expansion and grants for upgraded septic systems, especially in sensitive coastal areas.
Now, as a community housing advocate, I’ve also often heard that we have been so successful at conserving land that we have created a scarcity of building lots, therefore driving up the cost of land and making it near impossible for homes that are affordable to a large percentage of our residents.
Land scarcity and upzoning are having a serious impact on our ability to build homes that are affordable, and the public shows, time and time again, that they don’t have an appetite for affordable housing. It scares them, even if they, themselves would benefit from it.
Fortunately, a bill creating a Community Housing Fund by adding a 0.5 percent to the CPF tax at closing of real estate transactions has passed the New York State Assembly and Senate and is awaiting the governor’s signature.
Once signed, it will require a public referendum in each of the five East End towns in November of 2020 to be put into effect.
Fortunately, the minimum purchase price that the tax is paid on will go up, reducing the amount paid by buyers of properties that cost less than $1 million.
Also, keep in mind that first-time home buyers are exempt from paying these transfer taxes.
That being said, it’s very encouraging to see the The Peconic Land Trust recently step in to acquire, move and begin restoration of the Case House in Southold. This effort will accomplish several things that we hold near and dear to our hearts: preservation and restoration of a historic structure and creating a home for young farmers as part of the Farms for the Future initiative, a five-year program that aims to protect the future of farming on Long Island by encouraging young people to get involved.
We all need to take action that not only preserves farms, land and historic buildings, but people and families too. We’ve preserved a great deal of land over the last 30-plus years, now we’ve got to get equally serious about preserving local culture by ensuring that we have affordable places for our young and old, workers and public servants to live. Let’s go!
Michael Daly lives on the East End of Long Island and is founder of East End YIMBY, an affordable housing advocacy group. Michael is also a member of the Peconic Land Trust Public Policy Committee.