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Beware of Open Space Next to You?

Beware of Open Space Next to You?

By Patricia Moore Esq.

The Town Board has purchased open space throughout the Town of Southold. These purchases have been overwhelmingly supported by the community. However, when land next to your house or in close proximity to your neighborhood is considered for acquisition by the Town for open space, the surrounding property owners must weigh the benefit of the open space with the detriment which comes from the intrusion into your privacy by the public use of the open space.

The purpose of the open space is to provide access to preserved lands for public use such as parks, nature preserves or recreational areas. Your home or private neighborhood could be next to a public trail, public beach or recreational area.

Recently, intrusion into your private use has expanded. The Land Preservation Commission was asked to comment on a variance application. The homeowner requested a variance to construct a second floor addition. The property was next to open space. The Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals solicited comments from the Land Preservation Commission (which manages the open space) before the Zoning Board considered the variance.

Neighbors are given notice of an application for a variance and are advised of the date of the public hearing and given an opportunity to comment on the variance. If your property is adjacent to open space then the “Town of Southold” is given notice of a public hearing. However, unlike other neighbors who are given the opportunity to comment on an application at the public hearing, the Zoning Board adjourned the Zoning Board public hearing in order to refer the application to the Land Preservation Commission specifically for comments. The Land Preservation Commission does not have any regulatory authority (Chapter 17 of the Southold Town Code) to make binding recommendations to a board on any zoning application or Trustee application. Their role according to Chapter 17 is to manage open space lands.

The Zoning Board has elevated the status of the Community Preservation Commission, who, at best, is a neighbor, by requesting written comments outside the public hearing. If the applicant for a variance wants to protect their interest, the property owner must appear at a Land Preservation Commission meeting and explain their reason for the variance (outside of the Zoning Board public hearing process) or risk their variance request being misunderstood. By requesting a recommendation, the Zoning Board gave the Land Preservation Commission undue influence and de facto veto power over the variance application. What will the Zoning Board do if the Land Preservation Commission recommends denial of the application. What comes next, Land Preservation Commission’s permission for a new house, pool, or dock. Beyond the questionable legal authority of the Land Preservation Commission referral, are there members of the Land Preservation Commission who understand the unique issues affecting waterfront properties?

The Town Board appoints the commission. There are 8 members and one Town Board member, as liaison to the Town Board. Presently, the Land Preservation Commission consists of one member from Fishers Island, 5 members from the agricultural community, one environmental activist, and one community activist. Waterfront property owners are not adequately represented. In fact, some current members have a strong history of advocating against waterfront property owners and have taken extreme positions against their waterfront neighbors. Councilman Krupski, having served as Southold Town Trustee for many years, is the liaison to the Town Board and better understands the issues that waterfront property owners face.

If the Land Preservation Commission is going to be solicited for comments on variance applications affecting waterfront properties, then the Southold Town Board has an obligation to protect the interests of waterfront property owners. The agricultural community is strongly represented, waterfront property owners should have fair representation as well.
Flickr Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sometoast/1211753700

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