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Southold Town committee identifies top priorities for land preservation

Farmland adjacent to already preserved farmland would have the highest priority for preservation under a set of guidelines recommended to the Southold Town Board by its land preservation committee.

The committee is also recommending the Town Board set aside $2.5 million to perserve as much of the top priority farmland first before considering lower priority lands.

More than 8,000 acres of land have been protected in Southold Town through purchase of development rights and open space acquisition programs by the town, county and state, and the town’s own preservation programs covers more than 3,360 acres of farmland and open space.

The proposed guidelines create priorities for farmland development rights purchases, with the top priority being land adjacent to preserved farmland, followed by land adjacent to farmland that hasn’t been preserved.

The lowest priority is land that’s not next to any farmland, according to town land preservation coordinator Melissa Spiro.

“There’s currently nothing in the code regarding this,” Ms. Spiro said of the priorities.

Councilman Bob Ghosio said he had asked the committee to give a presentation to the Town Board explaining the procedures and protocols to be used in making recommendations for what lands to preserve.

The proposed priority rankings would be formal guidelines to the Town Board but would not be part of the Town Code, Ms. Spiro said.

Land with prime agricultural soils would rank higher, followed by property where the predominant use is agriculture along with land where the committee feels the design of the farmland is favorable to agriculture and, if applicable, to the scenic components or other factors relevant to the surrounding area.

The committee recommends that category two farmland or potential open space acquisitions not take place until all of the top priority farmland is preserved.

Councilman Bill Ruland, who is a Mattituck farmer, suggested that inclusion in a state agricultural district should also be a criteria. Agricultural districts provide incentives to keep the land in agriculture. He said that would show commitment to farming on the part of the property owner.

“The farmland preservation program is one of the best ways to keep traditional Southold,” Mr. Ghosio said.

“It’s was a good way to go through the process and see if there are ways to improve it,” Supervisor Scott Russell said afterward of the presentation.

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File photo: Southold Town land preservation coordinator Melissa Spiro. (Credit: Carrie Miller)