As Suffolk County’s Director of Planning, I am appalled at the cavalier misstatements made by East Hampton Town officials. I’m writing to set the record straight.
The County is sympathetic to the plight of the residents of the Hansom Hills subdivision and we are convinced that working together, we can find ways to alleviate the flooding. However, we have a responsibility to Suffolk County taxpayers and to the integrity of the farmland preservation program to resolve this issue lawfully.
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So, let’s go over the facts:
What is beyond dispute is that the Town of East Hampton blatantly caused extensive damage to farmland, that was preserved by Suffolk County taxpayers, by removing large quantities of valuable topsoil. This is the first time in memory that a municipality has unlawfully violated a piece of preserved property. To make matters worse, not only did the Town of East Hampton allow a contractor to excavate the soil, but further permitted him to sell the soil, considered the finest agricultural soil in New York – the “Cadillac” of soil. Rather than enriching the farm with the soil, the Town chose to enrich someone’s pockets.
This is the only instance anyone at the County can remember in the entire history of the 37-year Purchase of Development Rights program where a municipality blatantly violated the program and then asked the County to turn a blind eye to the law and retroactively approve an illegal action.
Such approval will not be forthcoming.
It has been stated that the County has initiated a lawsuit. That is not true. The County has NOT initiated a lawsuit against the Town. We filed a ‘notice of claim’ to preserve our right in the event the Town continues to be unwilling to rectify their “mistake.”
It has been stated that the County and Town were in communication for a two year period and “unnamed person” at the County approved the project. In fact, the Town never reached out the County Department of Planning prior to commencing their action and we only learned of the violation from a third party.
Although the Town continues to insist they have an easement from the owner, they do not. The person who allegedly signed their document is not the owner of the property.
It has been stated that the County is unwilling to work with the Town. The County has always been ready, willing and able to assist the Town in any legal manner, but will not violate the public trust and the law in the process. The Town is seeking a retroactive approval of an unlawful action. In fact, the County convened a meeting with the Town on Aug. 1 to explore alternatives, during which it was agreed that the Town would submit lawful alternatives. We have received none.
It has also been stated that the Town submitted a proposal over a month ago. That again is incorrect. In an attempt to retroactively gain approve of an illegal action and move forward with their plans intact, The Town mailed an application to the County on Sept. 10.
The Town is being disingenuous in that they have demonstrated an unwillingness to come to an appropriate and legal solution. Not only has the Town Supervisor refused to return my last telephone call placed on Sept. 10, but he has willfully mischaracterized a Deputy County Executive’s invitation to talk, choosing instead to distort the gesture.
Ironically, the fact that the Town of East Hampton has responded to our notice of claim in such a hostile manner, rather than viewing it as an opportunity to find a compromise, demonstrates the very behavior that necessitated the notice in the first place.
This is not about politics or personalities. This is about protecting the integrity of the Farmland Preservation Program. Let us not forget that Suffolk’s farmland is the most productive farmland in the state, in part due to the quality of the soil, which is considered the finest agricultural soil in the state. Protecting this unique resource is the mission of the Farmland Preservation Program and the Development Rights process and the County is committed to remaining vigilant in this mission.
The County stands ready to work with the Town to find a legal solution that maintains the integrity of the program and relieves flooding faced by homeowners of Hansom Hills. I look forward the Supervisor’s return call.
Suffolk County Director of Planning
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