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Riverhead, New York

The Town of Riverhead, population 10,000, lies in eastern Suffolk County, near the far tip of Long Island, approximately 70 miles east of Manhattan. The Town boundaries extend from Long Island Sound on the north to the Peconic River on the south. In 1995, Riverhead joined with Suffolk County, the State of New York and the towns of Southamption and Brookhaven to implement the Central Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan. This regional plan is designed to protect a 100,000-acre area that contains the largest concentration of endangered, threatened and special concern species in the state of New York as well as safeguard a deep recharge area for the groundwater aquifer that provides drinking water for much of Long Island. As described in Beyond Takings & Givings, part of the preservation called for in the Pine Barrens Plan is provided by a TDR program that operates in Riverhead as well as the other two towns. In addition, Riverhead has adopted a separate farmland preservation TDR program, described below, to encourage the preservation of an area with vineyards and farms that are popular agro-tourism destinations.

Riverhead uses TDR to preserve an area with vineyards and farms that offer pick-your-own crops, corn mazes and other forms of agro-tourism.

Riverhead’s TDR ordinance is specifically designed to preserve farmland and support the agricultural industry in the Town’s Agricultural Preservation Zone (APZ), which includes a majority of the land within the Town’s boundaries. In addition to APZ zoning, qualifying sending sites must be used for agriculture, consist of prime soils or contain other natural features identified for protection.

Sending sites must be at least seven acres in size. The number of credits available for transfer is calculated by eliminating land from which development rights have already been precluded as well as land occupied by non-agricultural improvements (including golf courses) and dividing by 43,560 square feet.

The Town Board can approve sites to become receiving areas if they have adequate infrastructure, if no significant adverse environmental effects would result and if the proposed development would be compatible with other development permitted in the district. Receiving sites can be allowed in any of ten zoning districts including four residential districts, four commercial districts, one mixed use zone and the Planned Recreational Park district. The TDR ordinance spells out the maximum density permitted when developers use TDR. For example, in the Residence A-40 zone, TDR can be used to achieve a maximum density of one lot per 20,000 square feet. In the mixed use zone, a credit can be used to allow a second dwelling unit on a 40,000-square foot lot. In the four commercial zones, one credit permits an additional 1,500 square feet of floor area up to a maximum 0.3 floor area ratio (FAR). And in the Planned Recreational Park zone, one credit allows an additional 1,500 square feet of floor area to a maximum 0.2 FAR. To accommodate the bonus floor area, the Town Board can allow variations in parking, lot coverage and other commercial development standards.

As an unusual feature, the Riverhead ordinance requires the Town to discontinue the redemption of residential credits when a total of 500 residential credits have been redeemed.