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Land preservation program in Riverhead could be tweaked

With Riverhead Town’s fund to buy farmland for preservation running dry, a team of local historians and preservationists say encouraging more private preservation sales is the way to prevent the town from becoming overdeveloped. 

During an hour-long discussion at last Thursday’s work session, a working group for the town’s Transfer of Development Rights program suggested ways to tweak the town code to encourage more participation.

Under the TDR program, developers, instead of the town, can purchase the development rights to farmland. In exchange for keeping the properties undeveloped, investors are permitted to build more dense developments in parts of town that are already built up.

“It’s basically a way for those properties to sell development rights if they wanted to,” said local historian Richard Wines. “It gives us a preservation tool to use in an area where we don’t have one now.”

Several of the ideas received support from at least three of the Town Board’s five members, meaning they appear likely to move forward. Among them are tweaks to hotel commercial floor area codes and adding “density incentive credits,” a simpler variation of the TDR process.

But while the board was in favor of some of the changes, not all of the group’s proposals were supported. Supervisor Sean Walter wasn’t in favor of turning the new Community Benefit Zone into something that could be developed through the program, saying the town had worked hard to specify what could be allowed in the area.

Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said allowing TDR to apply to industrial areas, which has also been proposed, could help several companies looking to expand at EPCAL.

The working group will have to meet with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to see if the rules can be relaxed. 

Photo caption: Richard Wines, left, pictured at Thursday’s Riverhead Town Board work session. (Credit: Paul Squire)

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