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Open Space

The area east of Comsewogue High School and south of Route 112 will be protected under new legislation. Image from Google Maps

A Suffolk County legislator is looking to protect Port Jefferson Station and Terryville’s groundwater, and if her plan reaches completion, it will also preserve a massive chunk of green space.

The county passed a bill sponsored by 5th District Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) Oct. 3 that allows Suffolk to begin seeking appraisals from landowners of 62 separate properties within the Terryville Greenbelt, an approximately 75-acre plot of land, of which about 40 acres has already been preserved by Town of Brookhaven through open space land acquisitions.

The town is allowed by law to acquire open space based upon environmental sensitivity. Hahn’s bill allows for the appraisal of about 17 acres of the remaining unprotected land within the parcel, designated as a special groundwater protection area, located south of Route 112 and adjacent to the rear of Comsewogue High School. The bill requires signing by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) before it becomes law; then further legislation will be required to complete the purchases.

“For the past 50 years the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community has worked to offset its rapid growth with safeguards of its quality of life and environment,” Hahn said in a statement. She also serves as the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “Protecting these parcels, located within a special groundwater protection area in perpetuity highlights the continued commitment of Suffolk County to being a partner in this careful balance that ensures not only the local environment but also our resident’s quality of life.”

The plan has been in the works since 2003, when Terryville resident and preservation proponent Louis Antoniello began advocating for the protection of the greenbelt. After years with minimal action, in 2010, with support from former Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko (D) and former Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket), Brookhaven purchased 16 parcels of open space within the Terryville Greenbelt for $648,000.

“The dream of creating a greenbelt around Comsewogue High School started back in 2003 — we never gave up on the dream and now the dream is going to become a reality,” Antoniello said in a statement. “The preservation of the property helps to protect our drinking water; creates an ecosystem for the many species of animals that make the greenbelt their home and it creates a living biology classroom for the children in the Comsewogue school district.”

Antoniello, who thanked Hahn and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for their efforts in advancing the legislation during a phone interview, said the preservation of the land is important because it filters more than a million gallons of water per year that then proceeds into an aquifer, which holds much of the area’s drinking water. Antoniello also served as chairman of the Land Use, Parks and Open Space Committee for a 2008 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet study done in cooperation with the town.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, nearly all of Long Island’s drinking water comes from underground aquifers.

Charles McAteer, chairman of the Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail and also advocate for the preservation of open space, spoke in favor of Hahn’s bill.

“It is good to see more acres set aside to remain as Long Island woods for future generations to enjoy,” he said in an email. “This will allow the treed land to filter down rainwater to our Long Island aquifer system. It is a win-win for all of us in the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet.”

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The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is currently overgrown and hidden, but will soon be restored. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Elana Glowatz

Officials are on track to restore a piece of Long Island history, bringing an abandoned and forgotten horse-racing site back to life.

The Cumsewogue Historical Society has a ticket to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park from July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz
The Cumsewogue Historical Society has a ticket to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park from July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Brookhaven Town finished purchasing a swath of wooded land off of Canal Road in Terryville at the end of 2013, after Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith discovered the faint outline of the horse track and dug up information about what was once called the Gentlemen’s Driving Park. The town now owns the entire 11-acre site.

Today it’s an overgrown path hidden among trees, but the Gentlemen’s Driving Park used to be a place where Victorian Era bettors watched men race around the half-mile loop — counterclockwise — behind horses in carts called sulkies. It was part of a circuit of harness racing tracks in the Northeast, according to Smith, but likely fell into neglect with the rise of the automobile.

But cars have also helped keep the track viable: Smith previously reported that at least through the mid-1950s, kids raced jalopies around the track, preventing it from becoming completely overgrown.

Smith said on Monday the effort to restore and preserve the track is moving slowly, but there has been progress since the town finished acquiring the property. There are plans in place to clear the track to about 20 feet wide, although leaving larger trees in place, and to move up the southern curve of the oval, he said.

Jack Smith takes a closer look at a wrecked car on the Gentlemen's Driving Park track around the time he first discovered the forgotten historical spot. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Jack Smith takes a closer look at a wrecked car on the Gentlemen’s Driving Park track around the time he first discovered the forgotten historical spot. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Currently, a small PSEG Long Island facility cuts into that southern tip. Rather than moving the facility or leaving the track incomplete, the town would retrace that small section of track, slightly shortening the loop but completing the oval so as to make a walkable path for visitors.

“The town is in the process of working on the track to restore the track as closely to the original footprint as possible,” Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in a statement this week. “There will be some adjustments needed and the town is actively working on that.”

If all goes according to plan, the councilwoman said, the restored track could open late in the summer or early in the fall.

“The important thing is that it will be an oval,” Smith said Monday. “We want to keep some of the historical integrity.”

His goal is to put informational signs around the track that will teach people about its history.

The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is currently overgrown and hidden, but will soon be restored. Photo by Elana Glowatz
The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is currently overgrown and hidden, but will soon be restored. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The driving park was adjacent to well-known horse trainer Robert L. Davis’ Comsewogue stables, now the Davis Professional Park. After hearing rumors of such a track in Terryville, Smith discovered it by looking at an aerial image of the neighborhood taken during the winter, when the foliage was less dense. He saw the faint shape in the woods near Canal Road and went walking in to find it. Since that visit, he has uncovered a broken pair of Victorian-era field glasses near the finish line on the track’s west side, which may have been dropped and trampled. He also has a ticket from a racing event on July 4. 1892.

Once restoration work is completed, Cartright said the town hopes to work with the historical society and the community “to hold a kickoff event to highlight the track and its history.”

For his part, the historical society president has said he would like to hold a fair in which people will re-enact the late 1800s horse races with vintage sulkies or participate in a carriage parade.

“We can’t be happier that it’s been preserved,” Smith said.

The Friends of Cordwood are trying to preserve the Cordwood Landing Nature preserve. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After years of frustration, the Friends of Cordwood Landing have had enough.

On Thursday, Oct. 15, the group had a rally alongside residents, environmental activists and elected officials to fight for the preservation of a parcel of land next to the Cordwood Landing Nature Preserve, a county park in Miller Place. The rally was held to help the Friends of Cordwood find a different means of acquiring the land after the group hit a standstill with county legislators.

According to Tom Cramer, one of the founding members of Friends of Cordwood Landing, any resolution regarding the purchase of property must go through the county legislator — Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai). Cramer said getting in touch with Anker regarding this issue was difficult when he and the Friends of Cordwood attempted to get an appraisal for the property.

The interaction ended with the Friends of Cordwood turning to Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). Cramer said Hahn helped the group push the resolution through, and an appraisal was done for the property.

While Cramer said Anker didn’t follow up with the group’s initial resolution proposal, Anker said she did all that she could to assist the organization. The resolution was Anker’s first piece of legislation, according to an email from her office. Her office also said the county did an appraisal of the property. The county offered $783,000 to the original owner of the parcel and the owner refused the offer. In September of 2014, Mark Baisch, the developer, purchased the property for $750,000.

Cramer said Baisch asked for $1.25 million for the approximately 5.5-acre property, and they increased the appraisal to $930,000. After Baisch refused this offer, Cramer claims Anker said Baisch and the Friends of Cordwood were in collusion with one another and were attempting to defraud the county. Cramer said they were not.

Anker denied the idea that Baisch and the Friends of Cordwood were working together.

With the tension between those involved, Baisch refused to sell the property to the county and is currently in the process of going through the town to handle the matter. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) attended the rally last Thursday. According to Cramer and Bonner, Romaine was promising to pay 30 to 35 percent of the property’s cost.

“In our mind, it’s illogical to build houses near a nature preserve,” Bonner said about Baisch’s plan to put houses on the property. She added that the wildlife in the area would be affected.

In a phone interview, Anker said her goal was to help preserve the property, as it is one of the last few tracks of land in the North Shore area that needs to be preserved. According to Cramer, many residents thought the property was part of the Cordwood Landing county park, which lies adjacent to the piece of property.

Now it’s simply a waiting game, as Baisch waits for his plan for the property to be approved by the town.

Bonner said the town is working on it.

“We are ready, willing and able partners … [the property] has always been on our radar,” Bonner said in a phone interview. “It will make a wonderful addition to the Cordwood Landing.”

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Huntington Town Board is considering partnering with Suffolk County to buy the development rights of a Greenlawn Christmas tree farm.

The board held a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss a plan to buy a conservation easement and the development rights of the Tilden Lane Farm on Wyckoff Street in Greenlawn. The Tilden family has operated the farm for generations, and the property has been recognized as a National Bicentennial Farm for its more than 200 years of continuous farm use.

The town would use money from its Environmental Open Space and Park Fund and would split the cost with Suffolk County, according to a Town Board resolution.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said the legislator supports the move: “Few and far between are there opportunities in this district to have open space preservation, so he is in support of this.”

Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), who sponsored the measure, said he brought it forward because it was a “win-win” in that it offers the possibility to preserve the land, but also allows the Christmas tree operation to continue. Cuthbertson said he’s frequented the farm on occasions.

“It costs us less to outright purchase and allows something that’s a very compatible use to continue,” he said.

Asked how much the development rights would cost, Cuthbertson said the town is at the “beginning stages” of that process.

At this week’s public hearing, members of the Tilden family urged the board to move forward with the acquisition of the development rights, which would preserve the property as farmland forever. Six years ago, the town and county made an offer to buy the rights, and an appraisal of the property was done, but the farm’s owner at the time turned the offer down, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter.

The opportunity came up again when the current heirs became interested in selling the land.

“We’re trying to keep our Christmas tree operation going,” Bruce Tilden said. “We’re thankful the town is supporting this endeavor and we’re looking forward to keep it going.”

Neighbor Jane Irving also urged the board to move forward with the purchase, noting that the Tilden family “has always been good neighbors.”

“Isn’t it wonderful that the Town of Huntington has a working tree farm within the town borders?”

Spencer’s spokesperson said the development rights purchase would be reviewed by the county’s farmland committee on Sept. 15.

DeForest Williams property is open to public

A scene at the grand opening of Wawapek Preserve in Cold Spring Harbor last weekend. Photo from North Shore Land Alliance

Local officials gathered to mark the grand opening of the Wawapek Preserve last Saturday. Located in Cold Spring Harbor, residents will now be able to walk through the 32-acre parcel’s trails and take in its unique nature.

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the North Shore Land Alliance, Huntington Town, Suffolk County, New York State and the local community, $8.5 million was pitched in to preserve the property, following a negotiation that spanned years.

This property, once part of a 600-plus acre piece of land that encompassed the Wawapek Farm, has remained in the DeForest Williams estate for more than 100 years. Originally owned by Robert Weeks DeForest, a lawyer and philanthropist, the family expressed interest in having the property preserved in 2006.

Unfortunately, Huntington and Suffolk County did not have the funds at the time to purchase the land. But three years ago, threats of development become more foreboding, and the land alliance came on board to help guarantee that the property would be conserved.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement that the town is happy to have partnered with the county and the land alliance on the purchase, and he hopes that many people will walk these trails to see some of the unique flora and fauna that call the Wawapek Preserve their home.

These partners were able to raise the millions needed to purchase the property, with the help of the residents of the community, nonprofits and local businesses.

Eastern box turtles, a species on the New York State special concern list, and at least three state-protected plants have been documented on the land, Lisa Ott, president and CEO of the alliance, said in a press release.

It has also been discovered that it’s very likely Wawapek Preserve serves as a breeding spot and stopover habitat for many migratory songbirds and other species. The scarlet tanager, a neotropical migrant species, was expected to be discovered there, although comprehensive biological surveys have been limited due to restricted access.

Long Island has a strong commitment to protecting the habitats of endangered birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Long Island Field Office has worked with state and local governments to protect the habitat of birds like the piping plovers.

More than 60 percent of the land is comprised of mature hardwood forest, which protects air quality, provides erosion control and is home to a variety of wildlife, trees and wildflowers, according to Ott.

Local lawmakers including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), county Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), Petrone, Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and former Councilman Mark Mayoka (R) gathered back in September 2013 at the DeForest Williams property, when the funds were first committed to make the purchase possible. Spencer called it an “incredible victory” at the time, and believed it was government work at its finest.

“The opening of Wawapek represents the ideal blending of conservation and community,” land alliance Chairman Carter Bales said in a statement.

Miller Place property could be developed

The property is adjacent to Cordwood Landing County Park off of Landing Road in Miller Place. Photo by Erika Karp

A parcel of wooded land next to Cordwood Landing County Park in Miller Place is up for grabs, and the community isn’t letting the land be developed without a fight.

The 5.4-acre parcel, which backs up to the more than 64-acre county park off of Landing Road, has value to the residents of Miller Place, and according to Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), constituents have been making it clear that the land needs to be preserved.

A website and Facebook group, operating under the name Friends of Cordwood Landing, was launched a few months ago, and the group has been advocating for the land’s preservation. A representative from the group could not be reached for comment.

Back in December 2014, Anker began the process of acquiring the land from its owner, Rocky Point developer Mark Baisch, of Landmark Properties. The legislature unanimously voted to start the acquisition process so that the county could protect the area, which Anker described in a phone interview on March 17 as “residential,” from possible commercialization or industrialization. The county has hired appraisers to determine the land’s worth. According to law, the county can’t pay any more than the appraised value.

Anker said she would like to see the land become a part of the waterfront property of Cordwood Landing.

“I am a true environmentalist,” Anker said. “I will do everything I can to advocate and move this parcel forward through the acquisition process.”

According to Town of Brookhaven planning documents, Baisch submitted a request for a subdivision back in January. In a recent phone interview, Baisch said he would like to build homes on the land. However, if the county’s offer is sufficient, he said he would sell the land.

Anker said the proposal to acquire the land is currently in its early stages and is awaiting approval from the Environmental Trust Fund Review Board. If approved, the proposal will head to the Environmental, Planning, and Agriculture Committee, of which Anker is a member. She expects the proposal to get there by April.

In 2013, the county tried to purchase the land from its original owner, but the owner refused to sell.

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