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Brookhaven sued over pine barrens credit system

Brookhaven Town Hall

Brookhaven Town Hall Photo Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis

A Nesconset lawyer has sued the Town of Brookhaven and the Central Pine Barrens Commission over alleged violations of the Pine Barrens Act.

The state law was passed in 1993 to protect the region's 100,000-acre pine forest and nearby drinking water aquifer by severely restricting development. A system was proposed as a way to compensate landowners in the core of the pine barrens by allowing them to sell development credits for designated areas where development is permissible elsewhere in the region, since they couldn't develop their own properties.

But zoning and land use attorney Richard Scheyer said the town's anti-development stance and failure to establish receiving areas have rendered the credits virtually worthless. "By never designating areas, they're keeping people from building," he said.

Scheyer, who represents the land use company Pluralis LLC and its principal Robert Toussie, filed suit in Suffolk Supreme Court Wednesday. He said the credits awarded landowners in the pine barrens core have no value because there's nowhere in Brookhaven to sell them for development.

He said Toussie and Pluralis own 95 credits. The average price for a pine barrens credit in Brookhaven has fallen from a 2005 peak of $116,250, according to pine barrens commission records. The most recent sale was in January when 0.23 of a credit was sold for $18,400, which works out to be $80,000 per credit.

The suit seeks compensation for what Scheyer claims is $20 million in "value lost to pine barrens credit holders," though Scheyer said his client is not seeking monetary gain.

"What the suit is about is to compel the pine barrens commission . . . to enforce the law," Scheyer said, accusing the town board for NIMBYISM. "By ignoring the law, it's hurting a lot of people, including low-income housing. The net result is for political reasons they didn't want the increased [housing] density anywhere in their own areas, but they signed onto a law that said they were going to provide it."

Town attorney Annette Eaderesto said Brookhaven officials had not been served the lawsuit by Wednesday afternoon, but based on a description provided by Newsday, she said, the lawsuit was "inartfully crafted litigation that may be susceptible to [a] motion to dismiss."

She said the lawsuit "lacks necessary parties and may not have been brought in the appropriate venue," and added "we will defend this vigorously."

Calls to the Central Pine Barrens Commission were not returned Wednesday.

Pine barrens advocate Richard Amper, of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said the lawsuit inaccurately presumes the town will not designate receiving areas. "There are more than sufficient receiving areas for the use of existing pine barrens credits," Amper said. "The case is premature."Mitch Pally, chief executive of the Long Island Builders Institute, said his group plans to support Scheyer's lawsuit. "For the last 20 years the town has been, the belief is, in violation of the pine barrens statute because of the lack of mandatory receiving areas," Pally said. "We clearly agree in context that the town lacks the appropriate necessary receiving areas under the statute."


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