The Press Newspaper Group
This past week the elected leaders representing the Southampton community made a real and dramatic proposal to utilize the Community Preservation Fund to purchase the development rights at the 82 acre SUNY Southampton campus. Some have asked, “Can the CPF be used to keep the college open?” They are asking the wrong question. The question is can we protect the campus from being converted to another housing development?
When LIU closed the campus, the community was clearly concerned about the need for higher education opportunities and what the loss of a 4 year residential college would mean for the community. Just as important was what was going to happen to the land. LIU first announced it was going to be sold to the highest bidder. Not only were we going to lose the college, we were also going to face a private development proposal to convert the campus into a housing development. The Town of Southampton sprang into action, passed a moratorium, and prepared a land use study regarding the future of the land. Fortunately, the crisis was averted at the time when the State acquired the campus.
In four short years, $78 million were invested in the campus, a new curriculum in environmental sustainability was launched and success was on the horizon. Applications were up 54% this year, SAT scores for applicants increased by 100 points, and 800 students would have been on the campus by 2011 racing towards the goal of 2,000.
SUNY now states that it must close the campus to address a short term budget problem. To save a few million dollars they are proposing flushing a $78 million asset down the toilet. Just as important is the fact that these so called “educators” are willing to dash the dreams of hundreds of wonderful students who believed the words of Stony Brook that they were committed to their education.
The future of the land is also again at risk. SUNY is not going to close the campus and sit on 82 acres of prime Hamptons real estate. The SUNY Strategic Plan does not even list Southampton as one of its campuses. The land is worth tens of millions of dollars. It is only a matter of time before the land is on the market to close the next SUNY budget deficit.
This is where the Community Preservation Fund comes in. The 82 acre campus is one of the largest, most scenic pieces of real estate in the Hamptons. It possesses dramatic water views, open areas, historic structures, and recreational opportunities.
In its legislative findings, the CPF was created to protect “community character”. Community character includes (1) preservation of lands of exceptional scenic value, (2) recreational lands, and (3) preservation of historic places. The 82 acre campus is all of this and more. The CPF is to be used to (a) implement a plan for community character, and (b) acquire interests in land to preserve community character.
The purchase of development rights to preserve this unique campus land is the classic case of when the CPF should be utilized. Here is a piece of land that is critical to Southampton’s community character under threat again. The Town has already recognized that the land needs to be protected when it enacted the moratorium and prepared a study. The CPF is the best tool to now do that job and guarantee it in perpetuity.
There is nothing new or novel about purchasing development rights. Southampton has been purchasing developments rights to farmland for more than 30 years. The Town program’s basis in public policy is the protection of land. Of course, there is the ancillary benefit from the program that it makes agriculture more economically viable by paying farmers for these rights. However, the money is spent to protect land and maintain rural character. This is no different. The CPF would prevent the 82 acres from ever being developed and maintain our community character. All it could ever be used for would be education and other related purposes. If it makes education more viable, as was the case with agriculture, that is just an additional public benefit.
Finally, not only does this proposal protect the land, and guarantee that SUNY keep its commitment to Southampton by requiring that the Southampton campus become a separate college divested from Stony Brook, there will ultimately be no cost to the CPF.
This proposal would require the Town of Southampton to “bank” the development rights it acquires from SUNY. They would later be sold to private developers at fair market value as conditions of approval by the Town for new development proposals in the Town. In the past this density has often been just “given away”. By requiring developers to buy the rights, as is the case with the Pine Barrens Protection Act, the campus land will be preserved, the college’s future will be secured, SUNY’s budget issue will be ameliorated, density will be controlled, the CPF replenished, and ultimately developers will pay for it all.
It is a proposal which should be embraced by environmentalists, educators, taxpayers and the public at large. It is one of the wisest investments the community could make to promote its future.
Fred W. Thiele, Jr.
Member of Assembly
Kenneth P. LaValle