A 70-acre tract of undeveloped pine barrens land in Manorville is set to be purchased by Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven, which plan to preserve the property as open space.
Town and county officials have announced they will buy the land for $1,157,094 from Quogue real estate attorney Joseph Gazza, who said in an interview he is reluctantly selling the parcel after an unsuccessful attempt to build a horse farm for a client.
The Gazza property, combined with other county-owned land nearby, will ensure that a significant portion of the pine barrens will be protected from development, officials said. The Suffolk Legislature voted 18-0 on Feb. 2 to approve the purchase. The Brookhaven Town Board authorized the purchase last year.
"It's a lovely spot," said Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue). "It‘s a real great acquisition because it preserves a huge chunk of county parkland."
The county and town will split the purchase price, with Suffolk contributing $867,820.50 and Brookhaven adding $289,273.50.
Gazza, 70, said selling the land is a "sore topic" with him.
He said he agreed to sell the land — for more than double the $450,000 he paid for it about a year and a half ago — after fruitless attempts to persuade the state Long Island Pine Barrens Commission to grant waivers that would allow him to build on part of the property. He said he had a client who wanted to build a house and a horse corral on 5 acres near the intersection of Mill Road and Primrose Path, about a mile north of the Long Island Expressway.
"I thought that I would at least get one house on 70 acres," Gazza said, adding he had planned to preserve the remaining 65 acres. "[The Pine Barrens Commission] beat me up. They deprived me of every use, even one single-family dwelling on 70 acres. I had to accept what they paid me."
Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, a commission member, said Gazza's proposal was rejected because his property is located in the pine barrens' "core" area, where most development is barred because of its environmental sensitivity. Land in the pine barrens, which covers 100,000 acres in the towns of Brookhaven, Southampton and Riverhead, is protected under a state law that restricts residential or commercial development.
"All I would say to him [is], stop complaining," Romaine said. "You thought you could get away with it and the Pine Barrens Commission said no. ... You can’t have something in the core and build it, period."
Richard Amper, executive director of the nonprofit Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said environmentalists had eyed the property for decades and had worried about Gazza's plans for it. Amper said he was grateful Gazza agreed to sell it.
"It’s a very worthwhile parcel as far as its ecological value," Amper said. "It’s really ... pristine, adjacent to other land that’s protected."
Krupski said officials expect to complete the purchase in a few months.
"We’ll all be long gone," he said, "and this will still be preserved and people will still be enjoying it."
Details of the deal
Location: North and south of the Long Island Expressway, between exits 70 and 71
Features: Pitch pine trees, scrub oak
Price: $1,157,094 (including $867,820.50 from Suffolk, $289,273.50 from Brookhaven Town)
Price per acre: $16,529.91
Future use: The property will be added to the county's open space preservation program