Town-wide program - Formed in 1984 - researched by Terri Ptacek and Anita Zurbrugg

OVERVIEW - Stretching 21 miles into Long Island Sound, Southold is the eastern-most township on the North Fork of Suffolk County. The shoreline landscape makes Southold an sought-after location for tourism and second homes. Almost a third of the community's 54 square miles are still in farmland, although continually pressured by development. Southold was the first Long Island town to form its own independent agricultural easement to supplement the local preservation efforts of the Suffolk County program established earlier. Voter approved bonds and a property transfer tax have funded the town's easement acquisitions. Combining town and county efforts and the work of nonprofit organizations, easements to date have protected about one-fourth of the township's 10,000 agricultural acres. Yet local leaders, recognizing that the pace of growth and farmland conversion is exceeding the rate of easement acquisitions, are looking for other farmland protection methods.

EASEMENT ACTIVITY - 1,360 acres in 69 parcels.
Goals: The town has identified approximately 7,000 acres of farmland at risk of development.
Other Easement Programs: Suffolk County's purchase of development rights (PDR) program, in existence since the mid 1970s, has acquired about 1,330 agricultural easement acres in the township. Nonprofit organizations such as The Peconic Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy have protected additional agricultural land through easements and fee simple acquisitions.
Total Agricultural Easements in Town: Approximately 2,900 acres.

Acquisition Spending to Date: $11.5 million spent by the town.
Revenues: A 2 percent property transfer tax, approved by voters in 1998, funds the Southold Community Preservation Fund which supports the preservation of farmland and open space. Earlier funds were provided by seven voter approved environmental bonds and by foundation contributions to leverage matching federal fund and state funds.

GOVERNANCE - The program is overseen by a citizens' Land Preservation Committee of seven members appointed by the Town Board. Members of the Land Preservation Committee also serve as the members of the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board.

STAFF AND OPERATING BUDGET - The staff includes the full-time land preservation coordinator and two newly created part-time positions. The annual operations budget for the land preservation department is about $210,600. The town attorney and assistant attorney provide assistance on an as needed basis.

ORIGINS - Faced by escalating land costs outpacing the rate of farmland protection through its easement program, in 1980 Suffolk County asked townships to help in the effort. The Town of Southold organized its own PDR program in 1984 and acquired the first easements in 1986 after voter approval of an initial bond act. Six more bond issues were approved in later years. A further step was taken when the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Act was passed by the state legislature in 1998, facilitating the creation of a town preservation fund for farmland and open space fueled solely by a 2 percent real estate transfer tax.

ACQUISITION PROCESS AND STRATEGY - The Southold Town Board makes the final acquisition decisions, acting on the recommendations of the Land Preservation Committee. The process is focused on acquiring easements on specific properties identified in the Southold Community Preservation Project Plan, adopted in 1998. As part of a town land use and preservation inventory, every working farm is identified in the plan which qualifies it for application. Applications are funded in order of submission.
Rating of Parcels: No quantitative or qualitative scoring.
Other Criteria: The town is currently working on adopting specific strategies that include identifying critical farmland and reaching out to owners of vulnerable parcels.

CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL PLANNING AND LAND USE POLICIES - The Town Board, the Land Preservation Committee and the Planning Board work closely with landowners to preserve farmland. Southold Town policies related to the easement program include the Community Preservation Project Plan-which maps farmland to be preserved-and a clustering and preservation requirement for new subdivisions. The Peconic Land Trust works closely with the town's Land Preservation Department to facilitate PDR acquisitions combined with limited (reduced-density) development and private conservation easements. Not satisfied with the achievements of town and county protection efforts so far, town leaders are looking at other preservation options. A moratorium on new development is currently (2003) in place, to allow time for the town board to consider the recommendations of a blue-ribbon commission charged with preserving the town's rural character. Proposals under consideration include conservation subdivisions and rural incentive districts permitting property tax reduction for farms.
Zoning: Agricultural-conservation zoning contains some restrictions against wholesale conversion of contiguous areas of prime farmland to residential use. Clustering is required on lots of 10 or more acres, requiring 50 percent of land preserved from development.

2000 Population: 5,465
1990-2000 Population Change: + 273 residents; + 5 percent

10,232 acres: about 7,500 acres actively farmed-15 percent of farmland is fallow, average parcel size approximately 17 acres.
Conversion to Urban Use: Southold lost 2,400 acres of farmland in the last 20 years. (Program data)

1997 Market Value: Suffolk County-New York's leading producer of agricultural products-produces over $250 million annually. The own of Southold contains 22 percent of Suffolk County's agricultural land.
Number of Farms: 606 (Suffolk County)
Principal Commodities: Vegetables and vineyards, grain, potatoes, sod and nursery

The Town of Southold is long and narrow, approximately 54 square miles but stretching over 21 linear miles into Long Island Sound. Most of the urban development is concentrated around the hamlets and along the shoreline. Easements are distributed throughout the town among various other privately and county protected parcels, with some easements concentrated around the edge of development.