Suffolk to weigh future of open space

Kara Hahn, Democratic candidate for the Suffolk County

Kara Hahn, Democratic candidate for the Suffolk County Legislature, 5th District (May 18, 2011) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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The Suffolk Legislature will vote next week on whether to defer new appraisals and purchase offers for open space as officials seek to maximize tight funds.

The legislature's environment, planning and agriculture committee Monday passed a bill to study and re-prioritize hundreds of parcels that could qualify for acquisition under the Drinking Water Protection Program, funded by a quarter-cent sales tax.

Supporters argue the bill, to be considered by the full legislature next Tuesday, is needed as Suffolk's open-space program shifts from reliance on borrowing against expected tax revenue to a pay-as-you-go model. The bill would defer appraisals and offers for three months.

"My intention has been to protect the environment and make sure we're buying the most sensitive properties first," said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the bill's sponsor. "In the end, I think we're getting closer to that goal."

Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) expressed concern that it would take longer than three months to create a new ranking system for eligible parcels on the county master list. "If we can't acquire anything on this list until the resolution gets accomplished, we're essentially shelving the program," he said.

But county Planning Director Sarah Lansdale reaffirmed her commitment to the timeline, while Hahn noted lawmakers may still approve acquisitions of properties already past the appraisal and offer phase.

The panel Monday approved the purchase and preservation of the 150-acre former Long Island Beagle Club training grounds in Calverton. Environmentalists said the $8.9-million transaction was held up during the debate on Hahn's bill.

"We'd be sending a bad message forward if we unilaterally stopped in committee things that had historically gone forward," said Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper. The full legislature will consider final approval of the Beagle Club plan next Tuesday.

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