FAQs for Owners of Private Property in the Central Pine Barrens

8/14/14

 

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What is the Central Pine Barrens and why was it created and established?

 

In the 1970s and 1980s, the area known as the “Pine Barrens” began to be recognized as a region important to the future of Long Island for its significant resources, especially its potable groundwater, vast areas of forests and important ecological value.  A movement began in the latter part of the 1980s to increase public awareness of the importance of this area and to seek mechanisms to ensure its survival.

 

In the early 1990s, the commencement of litigation in regard to development in the Pine Barrens ultimately led to acknowledgement in 1992 by New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, that this area required a comprehensive plan which would preserve the integrity of its significant natural resources while allowing development to occur in certain locations guided by specific requirements. Accordingly, in 1993 the New York State Legislature passed the “Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act” (the “Act” aka Article 57 of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law) to protect the largest, “central” remaining Long Island Pine Barrens region, now known as the Central Pine Barrens.

 

The Act was designed to ensure protection of ground and surface water for the residents of Suffolk County, especially the quality of groundwater as it is the sole source of our drinking water.  The law also provided protection of a threatened ecosystem, the Pine Barrens, which is found in only a few locations in the United States and which contains one of the greatest concentrations of rare, endangered and threatened plans and animals in New York State.

 

The Central Pine Barrens is located in the central-eastern part of Suffolk County and is comprised of part of the eastern half of Brookhaven Town, part of western Southampton Town (including portions of the incorporated villages of Quogue and Westhampton Beach) and part of southern Riverhead Town.  This region is just over 100,000 acres in size and is divided into two distinct subregions, the Core Preservation Area, which contains a significant amount of publicly-owned preserved land and in which new development is prohibited, and the Compatible Growth Area, which contains a great deal more existing developed area and in which new development is permitted.

 

The Act created a five member Commission representing New York State, Suffolk County, and the Towns of Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton to oversee the Central Pine Barrens.  The Act also required the creation and implementation of a Comprehensive Land Use Plan, initially adopted in 1995 and amended from time to time, which authorizes regulation of land use in the Central Pine Barrens.

 

The Act and the Comprehensive Land Use Plan give the Commission joint land use review, permitting, and enforcement authority along with local municipalities, in particular the Towns of Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton.  The Act and Plan also confer stewardship and protected land management and ecological management responsibilities on the Commission and also allow for the establishment and operation of a transfer of development rights and conservation easement program which is overseen and managed by the Commission.

 

 

Why was my property designated as being within the Central Pine Barrens?

 

The boundaries of the Central Pine Barrens were initially created by the New York State Legislature in 1993 with input from a wide range of constituents including the general public, civic organizations, developers, business organizations, environmentalists and government officials.  A single contiguous land area was established as the Central Pine Barrens to ensure not only the integrity of its natural resources but also in recognition of the need to ensure that human communities would continue to thrive and flourish and that economic development activities could continue to be undertaken in appropriate areas. 

 

In 2013, the State Legislature expanded the Central Pine Barrens region in the vicinity of the Carmans River Watershed in Brookhaven Town to provide increased protection for the surface water, groundwater and ecological resources associated with this river.  As part of this Carmans River initiative, vacant and developed and public and private lands were added to the existing portions of the Central Pine Barrens in both the Core Preservation Area and Compatible Growth Area.  The effective date of this expansion was January 1, 2014.

 

 

What activities can I undertake involving my property in the Central Pine Barrens?

 

The Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act (the “Act”), contained in Article 57 of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law, describes and defines the activities that it regulates and for which approvals may be required from either a municipality and/or the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission.

 

Section 57-0107(13) of the Act lists these activities. (This section of the law is excerpted below.)

Activities defined below as “development” are subject to review pursuant to the Act and the Central Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan (and may also require additional approvals from other governmental entities).  Activities defined below as “non-development” are not subject to review pursuant to the Act and the Central Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan; however, activities defined as non-development may still require approvals from a municipality, the State or some other governmental entity.  You are encouraged to contact the Commission office with any questions or for further information (see separate contact information below).

 

13.      "Development" shall mean the performance of any building activity or mining operation, the making of any material change in the use or intensity of use of any structure or land and the creation or termination of rights of access or riparian rights. Without limitation, the following activities or uses shall be taken for the purposes of this article to involve development as defined in this subdivision:

(a)   a change in type of use of a structure or land or, if the ordinance or rule divides uses into classes, a change from one class of use designated in an ordinance or rule to a use in another class so designated;

 

(b)   a material increase in the intensity of use of land or environmental impacts as a result thereof;

 

(c)   commencement of mining, excavation or material alteration of grade or vegetation on a parcel of land excluding environmental restoration activities;

(d)   material alteration of a shore, bank or flood plain of a river, stream, lake, pond, or artificial body of water;

 

(e)   re-establishment of a use which has been abandoned for one year;

 

(f)    departure from the normal use for which development permission has been granted, or material failure to comply with the conditions of an ordinance, rule or order granting the development permission under which the development was commenced or is continued.

 

The following operations or uses do not constitute development for the purposes of this article:

 

(i)    public improvements undertaken for the health, safety or welfare of the public. Such public improvements shall be consistent with the goals and objectives of this article, and shall include, but not be limited to, maintenance of an existing road or railroad track;

 

(ii)   work by any utility not involving substantial engineering redesign for the purpose of inspection, maintenance or renewal on established utility rights-of-way or the likes, and any work pertaining to water supply for the residents of Suffolk county;

 

(iii)     work for the maintenance, renewal, replacement, reconstruction, improvement, or alteration of any existing structure or additions to an existing residence or residential property owned by an association formed for the common interest in real property;

 

(iv) the use of any structure or land devoted to dwelling uses for any purposes customarily incidental and otherwise lawful;

 

(v)   the use of any land for the purpose of agriculture or horticulture;

 

(vi) work by an utility performed for the purpose of public health, safety, or welfare and consistent with the goals and objectives of this article;

 

(vii) existing or expanded recreational use consistent with the purposes of this article including scouting activities, the maintenance or expansion of facilities associated with or necessary for such scouting activities including, but not limited to, the addition, modification, expansion or replacement of structures necessary for such activities and such clearing as may be reasonably required for the maintenance or expansion of scouting activities;

 

(viii) a change in use of land or structure from a use within a class specified in an ordinance or rule to another use in the same class;

 

(ix) residential development on any subdivision, residential clustered development, land division or site plan which has received preliminary or final approval on or before June first, nineteen hundred ninety- three, providing the lots to be built upon conform to the lot area requirements of the current zoning, are subject to the three year exemption contained in section two hundred sixty-five-a of the town law, or are subject to an exemption from an upzoning adopted by a town board;

 

(x)   in the core preservation area, construction of one single family home and customary accessory uses thereto on those parcels identified in the comprehensive land use plan adopted by the commission in June of nineteen hundred ninety-five and as amended on February twenty-first, two thousand one;

 

(xi) in the compatible growth area, construction of single family homes and customary accessory uses thereto on any lot held on June 1, 1993 in ownership singly and separately from adjacent lots;

 

(xii) in the compatible growth area, continuation of existing non-conforming uses, and activities permitted by special permit or special exception, including renewals of said special permits or
exceptions;

(xiii) in the compatible growth area, land divisions or subdivisions in the compatible growth area consisting of five or fewer residential lots which conform to the lot area requirement of the existing zoning for the subject parcel;

 

(xiv) in the compatible growth area, renovations, reconstructions, additions or extensions to existing commercial or industrial uses providing the addition or extension conforms to the uses permitted in the zoning district in which said parcel is located and which does not increase existing square footage by more than twenty-five percent; or

 

(xv)  in  the  core preservation area, the state or public corporation projects on parcels identified in the comprehensive land use plan adopted by the commission in June of nineteen hundred ninety-five, as amended on February twenty-first, two thousand one and October twentieth, two thousand four.

 

Development as designated in an ordinance, rule, or development permit includes all other development customarily associated with it unless otherwise specified.

If you are not certain whether or not an activity you are proposing on your property falls within one of the above-listed categories, please feel free to contact the Commission office as noted below.

Please note that other constraints on your property, imposed by entities other than the Commission, may exist and may affect your proposal.  These can include restrictive covenants, easements and buffers which might have been required by a municipality or some other public agency.  Accordingly, you are urged to investigate whether or not such other restrictions on your property may be present. 

 

 

What can I do with a parcel of private property I own in the Core Preservation Area?

 

The Act states that “new construction or development” shall be prohibited within or redirected from the Core Preservation Area via the implementation of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  

 

However, owners of private, undeveloped or partially developed land have a number of alternatives available which include transfer and sale of development rights through the Pine Barrens Credit program and fee acquisition with monetary compensation. 

 

·         Pine Barrens Credit Program: This is a voluntary program in which you can apply to the Pine Barrens Credit Clearinghouse, that oversees the program on behalf of the Commission, for a Pine Barrens Credit Certificate which is a numerical representation of the development rights associated with your private property.  Pine Barrens Credits have monetary value and can be sold for a financial return.  Developers and others seek Pine Barrens Credits for various development projects. In return for this certificate, a conservation easement is placed on your property which ensures it will be preserved in its existing natural state.  You still retain underlying ownership of the property.

 

To find out more information on the Pine Barrens Credit program and how it may benefit you, please visit the Pine Barrens Credit Clearinghouse web page at:

 

http://pb.state.ny.us/chart_pbc_main_page.htm. 

 

·         Sale to a Public or Not-for-Profit Conservation Organization:  Owners of developable private property in the Core Preservation Area can seek to sell their property to a public agency for preservation, e.g. the County of Suffolk, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Town, etc. or to a private, not-for-profit organization such as a land trust which seeks to preserve and protect land. 

 

Alternatively, owners of undeveloped or partially developed land in the Core Preservation Area who wish to pursue a development activity may apply for and seek a hardship waiver approval from the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, which is subject to the Commission’s review and discretion, pursuant to the timeframes and provisions in the Act.  Please note that no new development may occur on undeveloped or partially developed real property in the Core Preservation Area unless the Central Pine Barrens Commission has first approved such hardship waiver.

 

If you seek to develop your property, it is recommended you first review the list of activities defined as “development” and “non-development” in the section above.  Activities defined as “development” and which are proposed to occur in the Core Preservation Area require a Hardship Waiver approval from the Commission. You must complete and submit to the Commission a formal application. The Commission will conduct a review of the application, which includes a public hearing.  At the end of this process, the Commission must make a discretionary decision as to whether or not to approve the Hardship Waiver application.  (Please note that prior Hardship Waiver decisions issued by the Commission can be viewed on the Commission website at http://pb.state.ny.us .)

 

If you are not certain whether or not an activity you are proposing on your property falls within one of the above-listed categories, please feel free to contact the Commission office as noted below.

 

What can I do with a parcel of private property I own in the Compatible Growth Area?

 

It is recommended you first review the list of activities defined as “development” and “non-development” in the section above. 

 

New development in the Compatible Growth Area is subject to the provisions of the Central Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan, particularly Standards and Guidelines for Land Use contained within Chapter 5 of the Plan.  Each of the three towns in the Central Pine Barrens (the Towns of Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton), has incorporated these Standards and Guidelines into their respective land use and zoning codes and new development in the Compatible Growth Area in one of these towns must conform to the Central Pine Barrens-specific code for that town. 

 

Please note that most development in the Compatible Growth Area is reviewed solely at the Town level, as long as it is conformance with the Standards and Guidelines and provided it is not located in an area designated as a Critical Resource Area (CRA), is not classified as a “Development of Regional Significance” (DRS) and is not a development project over which the Commission asserts jurisdiction.  If, however, the development project does not meet one or more of the land use development Standards or is within a CRA, is classified as a DRS or is one over which the Commission has asserted jurisdiction, then the Commission would also review the project, in addition to the Town.

 

If an activity is defined as non-development, it is not subject to review pursuant to the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act and Central Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  However, activities defined as non-development may still require approvals from a municipality, the State or some other governmental entity. 

 

If you are not certain whether or not an activity you are proposing on your property falls within one of the above-listed categories, please feel free to contact the Commission office as noted below.  Also, please note that other constraints on your property, imposed by entities other than the Commission, may exist and may affect your proposal.  These can include restrictive covenants, easements and buffers which might have been required by a municipality or some other public agency.  Accordingly, you are urged to investigate whether or not such other restrictions on your property may be present. 

 

 

What can I do with a parcel of private property that I own that was in the Compatible Growth Area prior to January 1, 2014, but is now in the Core Preservation Area due to the Carmans River Watershed Protection initiative?

 

In 2013, the State Legislature expanded the Central Pine Barrens region in the vicinity of the Carmans River Watershed in Brookhaven Town to provide increased protection for the surface water, groundwater and ecological resources associated with this river. As part of this Carmans River initiative, both vacant and developed and both public and private lands were added to the existing portions of the Central Pine Barrens in both the Core Preservation Area and Compatible Growth Area.  The effective date of this expansion was January 1, 2014. This included the transition of a number of parcels within the Carmans River watershed area,that were formerly located in the original 1993 Compatible Growth Area, to the Core Preservation Area.  Please refer to the section above What can I do with a parcel of private property I own in the Core Preservation Area?

  

If you are not certain whether or not an activity you are proposing on your property falls within one of the above-listed categories, please feel free to contact the Commission office as noted below.  Also, please note that other constraints on your property, imposed by entities other than the Commission, may exist and may affect your proposal.  These can include restrictive covenants, easements and buffers which might have been required by a municipality or some other public agency.  Accordingly, you are urged to investigate whether or not such other restrictions on your property may be present. 

 

 

What is the Central Pine Barrens Commission’s role in compliance and enforcement?


The Central Pine Barrens Commission office has a Compliance and Enforcement Division headed by a Compliance and Enforcement Coordinator.  This unit conducts compliance inspections of Commission-permitted land use activities and development projects, to ensure that development does not exceed the scope of permit conditions, and coordinates investigations into land use and related violations in the Central Pine Barrens. The division also coordinates with other involved agencies and councils to research and investigate incidents such as clearing, dumping and other unauthorized disturbances and activities in the Central Pine Barrens.

 

In addition, the division acts as a clearinghouse for complaints about potential violations, prepares initial reports about potential violation incidents and refers cases to appropriate agencies for investigation and processing.  The unit assists other agencies in the investigation of violations in the Central Pine Barrens, follows up on incidents referred to agencies and tracks incidents.

The division works with the Commission’s Law Enforcement Council on multi-jurisdictional environmental compliance issues (e.g. all-terrain vehicle enforcement) and legislation to create or improve existing environmental enforcement regulations.  The division conducts monitoring and enforcement of Conservation Easements resulting from the Pine Barrens Credit Program.

 

If you observe a violation or are aware of any potential violations in the Central Pine Barrens, you are encouraged to report them to the Commission office using the contact information noted below.  In addition, if you have any questions regarding enforcement and compliance matters in the Central Pine Barrens, again, please feel free to contact the Commission.

 

 

How can I get answers to questions or more information about the Central Pine Barrens?

 

The website of the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission contains a great deal of useful information that can help answer your questions.  It can be viewed at:

 

http://pb.state.ny.us

 

Nevertheless, if you have any other questions regarding activities in the Central Pine Barrens, both within the Core Preservation Area and the Compatible Growth Area, please feel free to contact the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission office as noted below:

 

By telephone: (631) 288-1079

 

By e-mail: info@pb.state.ny.us

 

By mail:  Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission

     624 Old Riverhead Road

     Westhampton Beach, NY  11978

 

Please note that office hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 5 pm.