Suffolk County, New York, population 1,477,000 (2019), includes the easternmost two-thirds of Long Island, 50 miles east of Manhattan. As of 2012, Suffolk County and its many jurisdictions had preserved more than 55,000 acres of farmland and open space using a wide range of tools (Pruetz 2012). Along with purchase of development rights programs, multiple TDR programs operate here including ones in the Central Pine Barrens and the towns of East Hampton, Huntington, Islip, Riverhead, Smithtown, Southampton, and Southold. In addition, the County itself has three TDR programs.
Suffolk County’s Save Open Space Program and its ¼% New Drinking Water Protection Program are also known as the Workforce Housing Credit Program. This program allows Workforce Housing Development Right (WHDR) credits to be created in all of the county’s ten towns when Suffolk County purchases an open space property. The county banks the credits from these properties and uses them to provide workforce housing and build public facilities including stations for fire, police, and ambulance services.
The third program, called the Suffolk County Sanitary Credit Program, allows applicants to seek relief from the sanitary code limitations for land development by preserving and sanitizing sending sites approved by the DHS Board of Review. As detailed below, the sanitizing process requires a permanent conservation easement, transfer of title to a governmental entity or non-profit conservancy, and classification of the sanitized sending site as open space. The county prefers these sending sites to be located adjacent to existing preserved open space. The receiving sites for this program are mostly located in areas without sewer service but with public water service.
These three TDR programs use sanitary credits as the unit of transfer. Suffolk County essentially has a baseline density for development occurring on land without sanitary sewer service. This is done to keep groundwater and drinking water within the required limits of 10mg per liter of nitrogen. However, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services (DHS) allows these baseline densities to be exceeded by TDR using various regulations as set forth in Memorandum 27, (Suffolk County DHS 2014).
Sending Site Disposition – Memorandum 27 controls how land must be “sterilized” in order for a parcel to qualify as a sending site. Sending sites in the Pine Barrens Core are subject to the requirements of the Pine Barrens Commission. Outside the Pine Barrens Core, DHS requires sending sites to be sterilized as follows.
- Sending sites that are being completely precluded from development, or sterilized, can only be used as open space or nature preserves. They cannot be used for development, farming, golf courses, cemeteries or any other activities with sanitary flow or nitrogen input. Since no development is allowed, these sites must be dedicated to a municipality or conservancy or merged with an adjacent parcel.
- Sending sites that are reducing rather than eliminating all sanitary density are restricted by covenants that reduce sanitary density on the sending site and transfer sanitary flow to the receiving site.
As-Of-Right Transfers – DHS allows the following transfers without the need for a variance from the department. NOTE: The following list includes the Pine Barrens Credit Program and various town programs as well as Suffolk County’s Save Open Space Program.
Central Pine Barrens – In Groundwater Management Zone (GMZ) III, baseline sanitary density can be doubled as a matter of right by transfers from sending areas in the Pine Barrens Core Area. If the sending and receiving parcels are in different towns, the approval of both towns is required.
Without additional evaluation, DHS honors sending parcels in the Pine Barrens Core which have been issued a letter of interpretation or PBC certificate by the Pine Barrens Clearinghouse.
Suffolk County Save Open Space (SOS) – Adopted in 2004, allows as-of-right transfers to double baseline sanitary density of the DHS or town zoning (whichever is more restrictive) by transfer from sending to receiving sites within the same town and GMZ for projects that result in workforce housing qualified under the county’s Affordable Housing Opportunities Program.
Southold Township – Adopted in 2007, this program allows receiving site sanitary density to be doubled for affordable housing projects using transferred credits maintained by the Southold Township Community Preservation Fund.
East Hampton Township – Adopted in 2007, this program combines credits based on zoning plus DHS standards to be maintained by the town’s Community Preservation Fund and used to double baseline sanitary density on receiving sites for affordable housing.
Huntington Township – Adopted in 2008, this program distinguishes between credits from public and privately-owned parcels. Credits can double baseline sanitary density/intensity for residential and commercial receiving site projects.
Smithtown – Adopted in 2010, this program distinguishes between credits from public and privately-owned parcels. Credits can double baseline sanitary density/intensity for residential and commercial receiving site projects.
Not As-Of-Right Provisions
In addition to the as-of-right TDR programs discussed above, DHS allows case-by-case consideration of variance applications that propose other types of transfers. DHS considers nine attributes of the proposed transfer including the location of the sending and receiving sites and the water quality impacts/benefits of the proposal. DHS has discretion to allow full or partial TDR credit for sending sites that have no on-site development potential. If proposed sending sites in residential zones meet minimum lot area requirements, DHS may grant credits based on the more restrictive of the town zoning or the maximum sanitary density within the GMZ. If the proposed sending sites in a commercial zone meet minimum lot area requirements, DHS may grant credits that vary depending on whether the site is within a 300 gpd/acre or 600 gpd/acre GMZ.
The Central Pine Barrens and other TDR programs operating in Suffolk County use the Suffolk County Code to convert transferable credits for various types of development on receiving sites. The unit of measurement is 300 gallons per day (gpd) of wastewater flow equals one credit. Even though this measurement applies in receiving sites that are not served by municipal sewer districts or community sewage treatment facilities, these requirements can also guide decisions in receiving areas with sanitary sewer service. The conversion factors are as follows.
1 TDR = 300 gpd wastewater flow
1 detached single-family housing unit
2 attached units with a maximum 600 gross floor area (GFA) each
1.3 attached housing units up to 1,200 GFA each
3 Planned Retirement Community (PRC) units up to 600 GFA each
2 Attached PRC units greater than 600 GFA each
10,000 Square Feet (SF) of dry retail space
7,500 SF of general industrial space
5,000 SF of non-medical office space
3,000 SF of medical office space
2,000 SF of wet (deli/takeout) space
10 seats of full-service restaurant (Suffolk County 2014).
Results as of 2014
In a 2014 study of all its TDR programs, Suffolk County reported the number of credits created and redeemed by the three Suffolk County programs. For the Save Open Space and ¼ % New Drinking Water Protection program, the 2014 study organized the results by township as follows. Note: these results are in addition to the outcomes achieved by other TDR programs, namely the Pine Barrens Credit Program and programs operated by individual towns (Suffolk County 2014).
As of 2014, 46.5 credits created in the Suffolk County Save Open Space Program and 268 credits created in the Suffolk County ¼ percent New Drinking Water Protection Program.
As of 2014, 5.5 credits created and 1.19 credits redeemed under the Suffolk County Save Open Space Program.
As of 2014, 3.0 credits created under the Suffolk County Save Open Space Program.
As of 2014, 92 credits created in the Suffolk County ¼ percent New Drinking Water Protection Program.
As of 2014, 8.0 credits created in the Suffolk County Save Open Space Program and 9.0 credits created in the Suffolk County ¼ percent New Drinking Water Protection Program.
As of 2014, three credits created in the Suffolk County Save Open Space Program and 31 credits created under the Suffolk County ¼ percent New Drinking Water Protection Program.
As of 2014, three credits created in the Suffolk County Save Open Space Program and nine credits created in the Suffolk County ¼ percent New Drinking Water Protection Program.
The totals for all three Suffolk County programs as of 2014 appear below.
|TDR Program||Credits Created||Credits Redeemed||Available Credits||Percent of Credits Used|
|Save Open Space||69||2.19||66.81||3%|
|¼ % New Drinking Water||409||0||409||0%|
|Sanitary Credit Program||180||180||0||100%|
Source: Suffolk County 2014
Pruetz, R. 2012. Lasting Value: Open Space Planning and Preservation Successes. Chicago: American Planning Association Planners Press.
Suffolk County. 2014. Suffolk County Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Study. Hauppauge, New York: Suffolk County.
Suffolk County DHS. 2014. Suffolk County Department of Health Services General Guidance Memorandum #27: Guidelines for Transfer of Development Rights and Pine Barrens Credits for Sanitary Density Credit. Hauppauge, New York: Suffolk County Department of Health Services.