Brookhaven Town to progress with Carmans River plan   

Times Beacon Record

July 04, 2013

By Erika Karp

Amid questions
from civic leaders about why the latest drafts of the Carmans River Conservation and Management Plan were not posted on the town's website, the Brookhaven Town Board unanimously accepted the plan and draft generic environmental impact statement Tuesday in order to initiate a public comment period.  The plan seeks to preserve and protect the 10-mile-long Carmans River, which flows from Middle Island to Shirley, from development and pollution.

Older versions of the plan could have allowed high-density development on the North Shore, something residents opposed.

The latest version of the plan, which Supervisor Ed Romaine has described as a preservation plan, has so far been presented to four civic groups in the town: the Selden, Mastic, Medford, and Setaukets and Stony Brook civic associations. The Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization and the town coordinated the community informational meetings.  According to Planning Department Commissioner Tullio Bertoli, the full version of the plan was available to anyone who requested a copy, but the town decided not to post it online, as it was still being updated before the Town Board accepted it on Tuesday night. While town officials expect the plan to change, it was posted Wednesday.

But MaryAnn Johnston, ABCO's Land Use and Environment Committee chairwoman, and Jim Gleason, an ABCO director, both were frustrated with the town's decision not to
post it sooner.  "We do not oppose putting a plan in place that saves the Carmans River," Johnston said. "What we want is transparency [and] community input."

Bob Freeman, the executive director for the state's Committee on Open Government, said in a phone interview Wednesday that under the open meetings law if a record, resolution or document is scheduled to be discussed in public, to the extent practicable it should be made available to the public. Since the town had the means to post it online, it is reasonable to say it had the ability to do so earlier.  Now that the Town Board has accepted the plan and environmental impact statement, residents can participate in the public comment period, which will be held open for a minimum of 30 days. Additional informational community meetings are being held throughout July, including one in Rocky Point on July 9 and Yaphank on July 10. A special informational meeting is scheduled for July 25 at Town Hall and a public hearing will be held on July 30.

According to a presentation at the Setauket Fire House on Monday, held by Joe Sanzano of the planning department and John Turner, the town's open space program coordinator, the management plan focuses on the areas closest to the river itself.  At the end of June, the state Legislature voted to add 1,660 acres of land from the Carmans River Watershed to the Pine Barrens preservation core area, therefore resulting in additional Pine Barrens Credits, or transferable development rights, being generated. Landowners receive credits in exchange for surrendering their development rights on the conserved land. The credits can be sold or used to develop at increased density in other residential, commercial and industrial locations.

On June 19, Brookhaven's largest shareholder of Pine Barrens Credits sued the town, claiming the town has failed to map receiving areas for development credits. The shareholder, Pluralis, LLC, whose principal is Brooklyn-based developer Robert Toussie, own 95 credits. Attorney Richard Scheyer of Nesconset argued in the lawsuit that the credits have lost value since there is no competitive market to use them in the town.  Former town Supervisor Mark Lesko introduced a version of the plan during his tenure. His plan included a list of 35 receiving sites in the town where the development credits could be used for high-density housing, including at the Heatherwood golf course in Port Jefferson Station. The list caused an uproar among residents of North Shore designated landing sites.  The town has not created a list this time and there are no specific redemption zones outlined in the plan. Sanzano and Turner pointed out the town is trying to reduce the number of credits generated by acquiring as much land as possible.

Last month, the town allocated $2 million to acquire land within the Carmans River Watershed. The town is working the county and state to acquire more land.  "Acquisition would obviously be our primary goal," Sanzano said. "Then the remaining credits would be absorbed through our other programs that we currently have through the town."