Land preservation has long been a top priority in Southold Town, and residents will have a chance to weigh in this week on shaping the town’s land preservation goals for the years ahead.
The town will hold two community meetings on the land preservation chapter of its new comprehensive plan. The first will be held Saturday, Sept. 15, at 10 a.m. at the East Marion firehouse. The second will be held Thursday, Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. at the Peconic Lane Community Center.
The draft of the chapter is available now on the town website at southoldtownny.gov and at libraries throughout town.
The chapter touts the fact that the town has already protected 25 percent of its total land area using methods ranging from the purchase of farmland development rights to the outright purchase of property to the private preservation of land.
According to the draft, 41 percent of the town is already developed and 7 percent is wetlands, leaving just 26 percent of the land area unprotected and undeveloped.
The remaining acreage, about 8,950 acres, includes 5,755 acres of farmland and 1,904 acres of building lots, which total 2,394 parcels.
One of the primary goals of the comprehensive plan is to retain at least 8,000 agricultural acres, or about 80 percent of the land that is currently being farmed.
The plan recommends a variety of approaches to achieve that goal, including promotion of conservation subdivisions, where more land is preserved than is required by the code, and the use of Agricultural Planned Development Districts, a special zoning area created on a farm to allow the farmer to sell development rights one at a time.
The draft chapter calls for the town to “design both standard and conservation subdivisions involving farmland to enhance farming and minimize potential incompatibility with residential neighbors.”
The draft also calls for the town to consider increasing the mandatory open space percentage for subdivisions on land over sensitive aquifers.
A suggestion to zone Plum Island to “ensure that the natural and economic resources are protected, along with the public health, safety and welfare” is also included in the plan.
In addition, the draft chapter calls for the town to more stringently monitor its conservation easements to ensure that landowners are not incorrectly using parcels for which the development rights have been sold.
Another suggestion is that the town do more to manage preserved lands it already owns, including maintaining trails, creating management plans for preserves and creating a volunteer program for preserve maintenance.