PRESERVING FARMLAND & OPEN SPACE IN SOUTHOLD TOWN
Informational Brochure created by The Farmers of Southold Town in association with Long Island Farm Bureau & First Pioneer Farm Credit
Why Farmers Oppose 5-Acre Zoning
We are often asked our opinion of the 5-acre zoning proposal for Southold Town. Virtually every farmer we have contacted strongly opposes the 5-acre proposal. However, we do endorse the goals to preserve at least 80% of active farmland and open space, and reduce density by at least 60%. Achieving these goals will keep Southold's rural heritage and historic farmlands preserved forever, and if it is done right, we will be able to keep the business of farming alive for the generations that follow in our footsteps. Since we are busy in the fields this time of year, we have prepared this leaflet to explain our views.
WHAT DOES "DOING IT RIGHT" MEAN?
To plan for the future, we need to understand the recent past. Our Town officials carefully studied how building lots have been created under the existing 2-acre zoning. They concluded that during the past 5 years (prior to the recent moratorium), on average, for every new building lot created in the primary farming districts (AC & R80), more than 18 acres of land were permanently preserved. The Town has actually been achieving over and above its preservation goal. Instead of 1 house developed for every 5 acres (as is proposed), Southold Town has preserved 18 acres for every house lot created.
HOW HAS THIS HAPPENED?
The key to Southold's current preservation record is the successful Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program. Suffolk County was the first in the United State to institute this program and since then (1974) it has become a national model for preservation. Local, county, state, and private land trust organizations are now purchasing development rights. They are purchased at a fair and equitable price, and the landowner retains the land's agricultural rights. Essentially the landowner has sold his right to ever develop the land. Because of the PDR program, over 3.500 acres of farmland and open space have been preserved forever in Southold Town. We emphasize that these lands are permanently preserved for all time - neither the Town nor the landowners can ever unlock them for development.
WHY WOULD WE WANT TO SELL OUR DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS?
Every fanner we know just wants to continue farming and does not want to sell his most valuable asset. But if he has to raise cash from his land he has two options: #1. Subdivide the land and pursue a maximum-intensity subdivision at the current zoning (2-acre). #2. Look into the benefits of the farmland preservation program. Recent experience shows that if a farmer wants to build 1 or 2 houses on his farm parcel, and sell the development rights to the remainder, his net return is nearly the same as a full-intensity subdivision. The best part is he can continue to own and farm the preserved land. This achieves the Town's preservation goals and has become an increasingly popular preservation tool, known as a conservation opportunity subdivision (COS).
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE TOWN UP-ZONES TO 5-ACRES?
Full intensity subdivisions would increase in frequency. The preservation program would become less competitive because building lots would increase in value and therefore full development would be preferred. Development rights would decrease in value and the successful farmland preservation program would be marginalized. So if 5-acre zoning was adopted, the town would be giving up its current preservation record of 1 building lot per 18 acres in exchange for 1 building lot per 5 acres.
NOT ALL LAND IS OWNED BY OPERATING FARMERS; HOW DO NON-FARMERS FIT INTO THIS PICTURE?
Actually, non-farm owners are more attentive than farmers to the variety of ways they can obtain equity from their land. If non-farm owners conclude that the preservation route (18 acres preserved for each new building lot) is cost-effective, they make a choice in favor of preservation. Recently, an increasing number non-farm land owners are participating in the PDR and COS preservation programs.
ISN'T THE PRESERVATION PROGRAM EXPENSIVE TO TAXPAYERS?
Development rights are currently selling at approximately $25,000 per acre. For many years the PDR program was financed by bonds which were strongly supported by referendums. Recently, however, a new source of financing has been established - the 2% transfer tax on real estate sales. That source is generating more than $3.6 million per year in funds dedicated for land preservation in Southold, so only a small part of future costs should be borne by local taxes.
WHY FARMERS OPPOSE 5-ACRE ZONING
WILL RISING LAND VALUES AND PUBLIC WATER FORCE MORE LAND SALES?
What is important is that the PDR and COS preservation programs remain competitive with full-intensity subdivisions. Farmland and open space will continue to be preserved at an average rate of 18 acres per new building lot if these programs are successful. Increased access to public water and escalating land values by themselves do not undermine the competitiveness of the PDR and COS preservation option. A 5-acre up-zone, however, will sharply reduce the value of development rights, thereby resulting in more full-intensity development applications.
WON'T A 5-ACRE UP-ZONE WITH CLUSTERED DEVELOPMENT PRESERVE FARMLAND?
Clustering houses on 1-acre lots has never been a successful tool for preserving farmland. In fact, experience in Southold shows that reserved land is removed from the tax rolls and almost never remains in farming. This reserved land is often owned by homeowner associations, and what once was farmland returns to deer pasture and scrub brush.
CAN THE FARMLAND PRESERVATION PROGRAM CONTINUE TO BE SUCCESSFUL WHEN THE FUTURE IS UNCERTAIN?
Yes. One way is a proposal to lock-in a farmer's intent to sell his development rights now, but pay for it in the future. This would give the Town time to build up its financial base from the 2% transfer tax. The community is ensured that the land is preserved, and the farmer/landowner has time to plan for his family and farm's future. Another way would be to transfer development rights from farmland to other parts of the Town.
ARE YOU SAYING THERE'S NO PLAN FOR AN UP-ZONE?
It is certain, if Southold Town were to up-zone now, it would accelerate the loss of farmland. An up-zone would cut the current preservation rate of 18 acres of permanently preserved land per building lot. But no one has a crystal ball spelling out the future. If, despite everyone's best efforts, the track record shows that we are losing the preservation battle, then up-zoning becomes a logical last resort. However, up-zoning should never be used as the first step, as is proposed.
WHAT IS THE BEST FARMLAND PRESERVATION TOOL?
Let's work together to meet the Town's planning goals. The most effective farmland preservation tool is to have viable agricultural lands operated by current and future generations of fanners. Keeping farmers in the business of farming will preserve Southold Town's rural heritage forever.