Southold Town, Suffolk County, New York

The Town of Southold, population 5,738 (2009), is located in Suffolk County on the eastern tip of Long Island. Suffolk County has been a leader in open space preservation and was recently one of the 42 communities celebrated for its conservation successes in the book Green Legacy: Communities Worth Leaving to Future Generations as well as the accompanying web site: In 1974, Suffolk County adopted the country’s first farmland purchase of development rights program. This program is funded by a voter-approved sales tax, which had saved almost 30,000 acres of farmland as of 2006. In 2007 the voters approved an extension of that tax, estimated to generate another $600 million in conservation funding.

The Town of Southold, in Suffolk County, New York, preserves natural areas, farmland and open space using a TDR ordinance adopted in 2009.

Southold Township forms the northeastern tip of Suffolk County, incorporating numerous vineyards, Orient Point (terminus of a car ferry connecting Long Island with Connecticut), and several villages including Cutchogue, Mattituck, Greenport and Southold. In 1998, Southold began a two-percent property transfer tax that had preserved 1,300 acres in its first ten years. In 2009, Southold added a unique form of transfer of development rights to its preservation toolbox.

The Southold TDR program is designed to preserve farmland, natural areas, open space, recreational landscapes and rural/cultural/historic character as well as promote socio-economic diversity and transportation efficiency. Sending sites can be located in any zoning districts that are not designated as receiving districts. Landowners who choose to participate record a conservation easement that permanently preserves the sending site.

The currency in the Southold TDR program is the sanitary flow credit, which is the equivalent of a right to build a single-family residential parcel with an individual on-site sewerage system or its non-residential wastewater flow equivalent. The number of flow credits available for transfer from a sending site is determined by the Town’s Land Preservation Coordinator. The program uses a one to one transfer ratio, meaning one single-family residential unit is precluded by easement on a sending site for each additional dwelling unit permitted on a receiving site.

The Town’s TDR bank acquires all flow credits. The Town holds these flow credits exclusively for developers building affordable housing units. When determining the sale price of flow credits from the TDR bank, the Town Board may consider the benefits of a proposed receiving site project to the community as well as the appraised value of the credits.

Receiving sites can be located in four zoning districts: Business (B), Hamlet Business (HB), Residential Office (RO) and Affordable Housing District (AHD).  The Town Code maps eligible receiving areas within “hamlet locus”, or HALOs. These are areas adjacent to traditional hamlets that are planned for compact development.

In considering an application for the use of flow credits, the Town Board must determine that the additional development can be accommodated by infrastructure, that the project will not cause significant environmental consequences and that the increased project is compatible with existing and planned development within the applicable district. The approval of a transfer requires a public hearing. Once a flow credit has been issued for a receiving site project, the project must receive its certificate of occupancy within one year unless extensions have been granted. The ordinance expressly prohibits a transfer that creates an unreasonably tax burden for the taxpayers of one school, special assessment or other tax district when transferring development potential from another tax district.

In September 2009, Melissa Spiro, Southold’s Land Preservation Coordinator, reported that the Town had severed flow credits from four or five open space parcels purchased by the Town. From 20 to 30 flow credits were deposited in the Town’s TDR bank as result.