The Environment, Planning and Agricultural (EPA) Committee of the Suffolk County Legislature will be discussing legislation under consideration which aims to re-establish landowner’s faith in the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program. The meeting will take place on Monday, January 30 in the Legislative Auditorium at the William H. Rogers Building, located at 725 Veterans Memorial Hwy. in Smithtown. The public will have the opportunity to address the committee at the beginning of the meeting, which begins promptly at 10am.
The legislation is in response to a New York Supreme Court ruling which declared null and void two amendments to the Suffolk County Code which allowed the county, through the Farmland Committee, to grant farmers hardship exemptions for structures like deer fencing and temporary hoop houses.
The ruling has caused anxiety and uncertainty among farmers who had previously sold their development rights to the county and among those who are considering a sale. At least one landowner backed out of a pending sale, which had it gone through, would have permanently preserved 23 acres of prime agricultural soils.
Without the ability of the county to grant hardship variances, farmers are unsure what they will be able to do on their preserved property. For instance, if crops were being decimated by deer, landowners are unsure if they would be able erect deer fencing on preserved land to prevent the destruction. It is unlikely that when the farmland preservation was adopted in 1974 anyone could have predicted the population of white-tailed deer would explode to such point where it threatened the very viability of the agricultural industry in Suffolk County.
“If farmers and growers are not able to adapt to changes rapidly occurring in the agricultural industry, they will be at a distinct disadvantage,” said Legislator Al Krupski, who is a fourth generation farmer and who was the liaison to the Southold Town Land Preservation Committee when he served as a Town Councilman. “If Suffolk County is unable to restore trust in its farmland preservation program, landowners will not participate and the consequences will be dire; this would lead to more houses, more traffic, the need for more services and higher taxes.”
The EPA Committee will not act on the legislation as it will be the subject of a public hearing before the entire Suffolk County Legislature on February 7, 2017.