Proposed Pine Barrens regulations would affect EPCAL development

Some development at Enterprise Park at Calverton might not be allowed unless applicants buy Pine Barrens development rights credits from either Southampton or Brookhaven town, under a proposal being considered by the state Pine Barrens Commission.

The proposal was generated by the commission staff because no one was buying development rights credits from properties in the core of the Pine Barrens, where development is prohibited to protect groundwater, according to John Pavacic, the commission’s executive director, who met with the Riverhead Town Board on Thursday.

The Central Pine Barrens in Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton towns were protected by a state law in 1993 that prevents development within a designated preservation core area and restricts it within a compatible growth area. The law also allows development rights to be purchased from the areas designated for protection, and those rights can be used to increase the amount of development permitted in areas outside the Pine Barrens that are considered acceptable for building.

Over the years, downzoning had occurred outside the Pine Barrens, increasing the amount of development that could occur. But none of the downzoning applications were made to redeem Pine Barrens credits in order to get additional building density, Mr. Pavacic told the board at a public work session.

“We’re tasked with preserving the core,” he said. “In order to carry out our mandate under the law, we have to make sure those development rights are being sent somewhere, and it wasn’t happening,” he said.

The proposal, which attempts to create a market for Pine Barrens credits, would require that all development within the compatible growth area be required to redeem Pine Barrens credits, and it also would increase the permitted development density allowed on received Pine Barrens credits to 15 percent more than their current value. So instead of the credits being redeemed on a one-to-one basis with the area they were sent from, developers in permitted “receiving areas” would have to buy 15 percent more credits.

“The fundamental problem for the town is that the credits don’t exist within the town itself to make this work,” Supervisor Sean Walter said, indicating that there are only about 187 Pine Barrens credits available in town that could be transferred.

“If you do high density development, the developer would be dependent on transferring in credits from either Southampton or Brookhaven towns. You would make all development in Grumman subject to the actions of other towns,” he said.

The former Grumman property, now EPCAL, is located within the Pine Barrens zone, in which development is restricted within a compatible growth area or prohibited within the core preservation area.

Town officials have long hoped development at EPCAL will be an economic generator for the area.

Officials say the Pine Barrens credits currently sell for between $70,000 and $90,000 apiece. Councilman John Dunleavy said the proposal would make it more expensive to develop in EPCAL, which falls within parts of the Pine Barrens boundaries.
“Why would you put our destiny in the hands of other townships?” Councilman George Gabrielsen asked.

Mr. Pavacic said the Pine Barrens Commission has to make sure the development rights credits from the Pine Barrens are being sent somewhere, in order to carry out their mandate of preserving the core of the Pine Barrens.

But he said there’s no guarantee the proposal will be adopted, since four of the five members of the Pine Barrens commission are elected officials. The commission is made up of the supervisors of the three towns, the county executive and the regional director of the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Mr. Walter said he will try to lobby the Southampton and Brookhaven supervisors against the proposal.

If the plan passes, Riverhead must amend its zoning to comply with it, even if Mr. Walter, the town’s representative on the commission, votes against it.

When the Pine Barrens Act and plan were approved in mid-1990s, Riverhead’s approval was needed for the proposal to move forward. Town officials at the time insisted that development at EPCAL be exempt from the Pine Barrens Commission’s jurisdiction or they wouldn’t vote for the Pine Barrens law, which couldn’t pass unless Riverhead, Southampton and Brookhaven towns all supported it.

“Make no mistake about it,” Mr. Walter said. “The wool was pulled over Riverhead’s eyes” at the time. The exemption the town demanded was included in the Pine Barrens plan, which was adopted in 1995, but it was not included in the law, which was adopted in 1993, he said.

The supervisor, who is hoping the state will pass legislation to create a special permitting agency designed to speed up development at EPCAL, says he will lobby to have the EPCAL Pine Barrens exemption included in that law.

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