Suffolk County acquiring development rights, open space in Riverhead

The Suffolk County Legislature’s Environment, Parks and Agriculture committee unanimously recommended two conservation efforts in Riverhead Town at its meeting Friday.

The measures are expected to be voted on by the full County Legislature at its meeting Tuesday.

The first resolution discussed Friday called for the purchase of development rights off the Schmitt & Son Farm on Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

The sale of development rights means that the land can continue to be farmed, but it cannot be developed for other purposes, such as homes. 

The farm totals 55.6 acres and the county is purchasing the development rights from 49.6 acres of that total, according to Sarah Lansdale, the county’s director of planning and environment. 

“The property is currently planted in vegetables and has been in production for more than 100 years,” she said. The purchase price for the development rights if $2.7M according to the resolution.

The land was recommended for development rights purchase at the July 25, 2019 meeting of the county’s farmland committee, she said.

“Look at all the preserved farmland around it, it will really add to this assemblage of farmland there,” said Legislator Kara Hahn, who chairs the committee. 

“It’s a family that’s farmed that area for a long time and this is good productive farmland,” said Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), himself a farmer. 

“It’s surrounded by preserved farmland that was preserved by Riverhead Town and Suffolk County programs,” he added. “This will stay in farmland in perpetuity. It will stay on the tax rolls and it will not require any county involvement for maintenance going forward.”

The funding to purchase the rights comes from the quarter-percent sales tax Drinking Water Protection Program, according to the resolution, which says that 75% of the land is owned by the Phillip Anthony Albert Schmitt Family Benefit Trustee and 25% is owned by Phillip Anthony Schmitt. 

The committee also unanimously approved the purchase as open space of 20 acres in Northville within thee boundaries of the North Fork Preserve. The purchase price is $1.7 million. 

Ms. Lansdale said the property contains more than five acres of woodland in the northwest corner of the property and the rest is a farm that would revert back to its natural habitat of woodland or grassland.

The county owns 361 acres in proximity in the North Fork Preserve county park, and 135 of those acres are for passive recreation, 176 acres are for active recreation and 50 acres within the county’s farmland protection program, Ms. Lansdale said. 

“If you look at the map, this kind of shows the importance of this acquisition,” Mr. Krupski said. “It is between hundreds of acres of parkland and open space and hundreds of acres of preserved farmland, and to preserve this last key piece in the middle is very important. It’s the proximity to all that other preserved land that really tells the story.”

The county also has the money to pay for this acquisition, Ms. Lansdale said.

The owners of the property are listed as Lynn Wells, Ruth Wells, Dale Wells and June Harrison.