Suffolk OKs plans to buy 171-acre Carmans River property in Yaphank

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Suffolk lawmakers Monday gave the green light for the county to make an offer to buy a 171-acre property near the Carmans River in Yaphank under a new system aimed at getting the most valuable environmental tracts amid diminished resources.

The environment and planning committee, in executive session, not only authorized an offer for the property known as Avalon Bay, but also to acquire the development rights for the 96.6-acre Robert Volmut farm and the 12-acre Joseph Brush farm, both in Riverhead. The committee also authorized making the 6.25-acre Nicholson Foundation property in West Babylon a target for open space acquisition.

The committee selected these four sites out of six proposed under a process that for the first time allows lawmakers to decide whether to proceed with sale negotiations after appraisals are done. The selections will now be put into a procedural resolution on which the entire legislature will vote Tuesday.

Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), committee chairwoman, said another dozen properties, for which appraisals are not yet complete, will also come before the committee shortly. The county this year will have $16.25 million for land purchases -- a larger amount than had been expected -- because a review of several older land programs and capital projects found leftover funds that had not been utilized. Going forward, officials say they expect $5 million to $7 million annually for land purchases.

The targeting of the Avalon Bay property comes as Brookhaven Town has been working on plans for more than two years to curb development along the banks of the 12-mile river.

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"This is our top-rated property and a major part of our Carmans River preservation plan," said Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine, whose town has already committed $4 million for a 50 percent share of the property. Town officials say the wooded tract recharges 98 million gallons of water into the ground and the river each year.

The new procedure was adopted last year because in the past the legislature would approve what was known as "planning steps" resolutions, which authorized county real estate officials to not only appraise parcels, but also undertake negotiations and go to contract on sales.

Critics say the process sometimes resulted in the county legislature buying tracts with the most willing sellers rather than properties with the highest priority.

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