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Riverhead Town updating its land preservation plans

A map of unprotected farmland and open space

A map of unprotected farmland and open space in Riverhead with recommended preservation tools as identified by the Peconic Land Trust and the Riverhead Open Space and Farmland Preservation committees. Credit: Town of Riverhead / Peconic Land Trust

After more than 20 years, a document outlining Riverhead’s preservation priorities is getting upgraded, with more than 8,000 unprotected acres identified as a priority to be protected and preserved.

Residents will have the opportunity to comment at a public hearing Wednesday on recent changes to the Community Preservation Priority Plan. Updates were finalized in May, according to officials with the Peconic Land Trust and Riverhead’s Open Space Committee, which worked on the document along with the town’s Farmland Preservation Committee.

If the town board approves the updated plan, Riverhead would be in a position to use Community Preservation Funds to acquire 8,259.5 acres of both farmland and open space that have not yet been marked as protected, those officials said.

Janis Leonti, chairwoman of Riverhead’s Open Space Committee, said updating the plan would provide wiggle room to protect more unprotected land.

"Even if [a land parcel] came up for sale, if the Town of Riverhead couldn’t purchase it, we could recommend [it] to Suffolk County or New York State," Leonti said. "We’re looking towards the future in that regard."

Some parcels the town would like to preserve include Broad Cove, the Saw Mill Creek addition, Nassau Co. 4-H, the Peconic River Greenbelt addition and Simmons Point.

The updates, which would serve as a guide for town boards going forward, include maps of the protected and unprotected acreage in Riverhead and a list of recommended tools for which to protect those unprotected spaces:

• A Purchase of Development Rights program, which allows local, state or federal governments or a nonprofit to pay landowners to relinquish their right to develop their land and preserve it for agricultural or conservation uses.

• Fee acquisitions, or charges and commissions paid to acquire or buy real property.

• The Transfer of Development Rights program, which lets landowners sell their land’s development rights to a developer or other interested party so they can use such rights to increase the density of development at another location.

Melanie Cirillo, vice president of the Peconic Land Trust, told Newsday that the priority plan had not been updated since its creation in 1998, in part due to economic recessions that affected the town’s ability to purchase farmland rights and open space. However, the land trust secured grant funding from the New York State Land Trust Alliance Conservation Partnership Program that helped them assign staff to update the plan.

As the pressure to develop land continues to increase, Cirillo said conservation has become more important in Riverhead to preserve local woodlands for water recharge purposes and safeguarding drinking water, as well as farmland to feed people and keep the local agricultural industry going.

"Riverhead is like the last frontier," Cirillo said. "It has the most farmland available compared to the other East End towns. By preserving farmland, you’re helping ensure that industry is economically viable going forward."

The public hearing is at 2 p.m. A copy of the plan is available on the town’s website, www.townofriverheadny.gov.

WORTH PRESERVING

  • 6,893, total number of farmland acres in Riverhead that have been recommended for protection under the Community Preservation Priority Plan
  • 1,366.5 acres, total of open space parcels the plan recommends protecting.
  • Open space parcels are prioritized in part by looking at native plants special to those areas and animals that frequent them, according to Janis Leonti, chairwoman of Riverhead’s Open Space Committee.

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