08/28/13 8:17am

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | Shelter Island Assessor Al Hammond at Tuesday’s Town Board work session reporting on an application for a tax refund.

Two people who purchased property in December were unaware they paid a tax they were exempt from and want their money back.

The Town Board agrees with them and is instituting a new policy.

At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, Assessor Al Hammond told the board the new homeowners paid a 2 percent tax on real estate sale prices that goes to fund open space, called the Community Preservation Fund. But there’s an exemption to the tax for first time homeowners who have a salary of $127,320 or less and buy a property that is worth $665,080 or less.

The buyers in question met both criteria, Mr. Hammond said, and should be entitled to a refund of $7,750.

“They weren’t negligent,” Mr. Hammond said. “They were not informed they could be exempted from the two percent tax.”

Mr. Hammond added he believed the homeowners were entitled to a refund. He made the case that the $7,750 was never Shelter Island’s to begin with since Suffolk County collects the 2 percent receipts and then gives it back to the East End towns that participate in Community Preservation Fund programs.

“The return of this money would not be a burden on the tax payers of Shelter Island because it was not in the budget to begin with,” Mr. Hammond said.

Cautioning that he was speaking only in “ball park numbers,” Mr. Hammond reported that since January 1, there had been 41 properties sold on the Island for about $39.3 million. By law, the first $250,000 of any purchase is deductible for the 2 percent tax. Giving back $7,750 “is not a burden in any sense in purchasing open space,” Mr. Hammond said.

Town Attorney Laury Dowd, who has drafted a proposal that there be a one year grace period allowing a refund for people who mistakenly paid the tax, said it was true that buying property is often an overwhelming experience and people overlook details. But all purchasers sign a 2 percent tax form where exemptions are listed “if you had the time to read it,” she said.

“I agree it’s a small amount of money,” Ms. Dowd said, but added that all 2 percent money is used in town decisions to target properties to preserve.

Nevertheless, she believed it was fair to give purchasers a year to get money back they paid that they didn’t owe.
The board was in agreement and will most likely vote on a resolution on the matter at the Town board meeting Friday, August 30.

Mr. Hammond said he was preparing “a package” explaining the 2 percent tax in detail and would give it to all real estate offices on the Island.

08/04/13 8:00am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Baiting Hollow farmer Jeff Rottkamp turning over one of his fields earlier this year for the planting of early sweet corn.

Growing sweet corn on the North Fork is an art form. It takes time, attention and plenty of fertilizer to ensure crops have enough nutrients to thrive.

The results are delicious, but the process can cause unintended harm to the environment, namely pollution from nitrogen that seeps into ground and surface water and feeds damaging algal blooms.

In an effort to achieve a successful harvest while protecting the environment, Suffolk County farmers are participating for the second year in a conservation project this summer to reduce their use of nitrogen fertilizers on sweet corn and potato crops. The technology, called controlled-release fertilizer, is designed to break down gradually according to the plant’s need for nutrients. The product would replace conventional fertilizers that can dissolve during heavy rains and enter local water systems.

Cornell Cooperative Extension and American Farmland Trust are spearheading the water-quality improvement project. CCE is working directly with 35 farmers to calibrate equipment to apply fertilizers at the correct rate. To test the product’s efficiency, samples will be taken from corn and potato crops produced with traditional fertilizer and controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer to determine if both crops are receiving adequate nitrogen, according to AFT.

“Long Island farmers are well aware of concerns about drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary,” said David Haight, New York director of AFT. “Our project offers practical ways for farmers to sustain crop yields while reducing nitrogen entering the water.”

Last year’s program had 10 participating farmers, who were able to cut their fertilizer use by an average of 20 percent while sustaining farm productivity, according to AFT.

Marty Sidor, owner of North Fork Potato Chips in Cutchogue, said the product fits well in his planting and fertilizing plan.

“It’s very user-friendly,” Mr. Sidor said. “I have seen crops that store better and I have not seen one deficiency in the field through all this time.”

Fourth-generation farmer Phil Schmitt, owner of Schmitt Family Farm in Riverhead, is having similar success with the conservation methods.

“We practice very intensive agriculture,” he said. “We started to see that the land was getting a little tired.”

To regenerate the soils, Mr. Schmitt employs an integrated pest management approach to reduce his use of pesticides and spreads compost to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers. As a part of this initiative, Mr. Schmitt is using controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer on all of his sweet corn.

He made the switch, he said, “to do the right thing.”

To encourage participation, the program provides risk protection for farmers interested in reducing dependence on traditional fertilizers, but concerned about possible yield losses. The farmland trust and AgFlex, a private company that manage the risks farmers face when adopting conservation practices, introduced the protection policy to 10 Suffolk sweet corn growers in 2012. It pays farmers cash if a new conservation practice, such as switching to a controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer, reduces yields — and therefore income.

Becky Wiseman, CCE’s agricultural environmental stewardship coordinator who works with farmers on the program, said it addresses water contamination, one of the toughest issues local farmers have ever faced. The region’s aquifers, the sole source of drinking water, as well as Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary, suffer from heightened levels of nitrogen, according to the farm trust.

Suffolk County long ago recognized that safeguarding agriculture involves safeguarding agricultural lands. Suffolk launched the country’s first farmland preservation program in the 1970s. Before that, aggressive real estate development reduced land in active farming from 100,000 acres during the mid-1900s to the current 34,000 acres. Without the action, Long Island would have lost nearly all of its farms, Mr. Haight said.

Today, agriculture is the backbone of the region’s economy. Suffolk County ranks first in New York in annual farm sales, with more than $300 million in farm products sold in 2010, according to the trust.

“We hope Suffolk County will once again be a national leader by demonstrating that it’s possible to work with farmers to protect water quality while keeping farms economically viable,” Mr. Haight said.

cmurray@timesreview.com

08/02/13 2:11pm

 

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) said the new CPF figures were good news on two fronts.

In the first six months of 2013,  money flowing into the Island’s Community Preservation Fund soared more than 205 percent over the same period last year.

That was the largest increase by percentage in CPF money of any East End town.

Numbers released by Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) showed Shelter Island receiving $1.16 million through June as opposed to $380,000 in the January to June period of 2012.

The so-called “2-percent” or CPF fund is financed by a two percent tax buyers pay on real estate deals, with the first $250,000 of the sale price exempted for Island deals. That money goes into a town’s CPF fund and is solely dedicated to open space acquisitions.

CPF money was up across the board for the five East End towns to the tune of 48 percent, or a total of about $49 million for the first six months of 2013, as opposed to $29.6 million for the same period last year.
East Hampton was second to Shelter Island in most money collected, up 59 percent, while Southold had the lowest number, with an increase of about 4 percent.

Mr. Thiele said the news was positive in two ways. “This is good news for Shelter Island for land preservation, but it also shows that the real estate market is recovering nicely,” Mr. Thiel said.

Peter Vielbig, Chairman of the town’s Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board, said there was another reason for the spike in funds. With new tax laws

Supervisor Jim Dougherty welcomed the new figures. “This is very, very good news,” Mr. Dougherty said.

Peter Vielebig, Chairman of the town’s Community Preservation Advisory Board said there was another factor at play  in the robust amount of money coming into the funds coffers. He noted that there was a spike in real estate deals in November and December of last year with buyers and sellers getting ahead of new lax laws slated to kick in with the new year.

“But because the way the collection process works, by the time we get the check it’s usually a couple of months after the sale is made,” Mr. Vielebig said.

January and February collections were “tremendous” he added, a result of the end of 2012 sales. The amount of money coming in dropped significantly in March and April, Mr. Vielebig said, but got much stronger in May, June and July.

“We have some debt we have to keep in mind,” Mr. Vielbig said. “But it’s good to have money to work with when someone comes by with a piece of land we can negotiate with knowing we have the money.”

Mr. Dougherty said that strategy and cooperation were important now in light of the new figures. “There remains a lot of open space opportunities where we have to take the quiet and respectful initiative,” he said.

Last spring Mr. Dougherty and Mr. Vielbig were at loggerheads over acquiring the St. Gabriel Retreat Center property on Coecles Harbor.

Mr. Dougherty said the new numbers were “encouraging, but we’ll still need assistance from the county and others to raise money to make the open space acquisitions I want to make.”

Since the fund was made into law in 1999, the East End has received more than $833 million to buy open space.

06/09/13 10:52am

COURTESY PHOTO  |  Floyd Memorial Library opened in 1917 on First Street. The stone building was donated by Grace Floyd, whose grandfather William Floyd was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The architecture of Greenport illustrates the village’s growth from its pre-Revolutionary beginnings through its heyday as a commercial whaling center into a modern-day working waterfront that serves locals and visitors alike.

After the Revolutionary War, the village was called Green Hill — named for its expansive marshland and a hill located near present-day Greenport Yacht and Ship Building. The hill was leveled at the turn of the century to fill in the marsh that would become the incorporated village.

Lacking the natural materials to make their own, residents relied on bricks shipped from Europe to build the foundation of the village’s earliest homes until the discovery of clay, according to local historian Carlos DeJesus.

Many buildings were even floated into Greenport, village historian Gail Horton said.

Today, Greenport’s historic district consists of 254 wood-framed structures, a mix of residential and commercial, laid out in a fan shape from the village’s Main Street waterfront business district.

Vernacular, Greek revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and Victorian styles were among the most popular home designs.

COURTESY PHOTO | The Metro Theatre was a popular attraction in Greenport during the early 1900s.

“The architecture of this village is fascinating,” Ms. Horton said. “You can walk around and really see the past in the housing. You can tell what people did for a living.”

Turn-of-the-century dwellings occupied by the working class are typically found on cross-streets near Carpenter Street. Most are small, simply designed homes sited close to the street on deep, narrow lots.

The village’s official jailhouse was also located on Carpenter Street. The jail was nicknamed the Greenlight Hotel because a green light was turned on out front when the jail was occupied. While no longer used in any official capacity, the brick building still stands at 232 Carpenter St.

Members of Greenport’s rising merchant class built their homes on Bay Avenue. They favored the Italianate style, which features decorative molding, often in a floral motif, and open front porches with tapered square columns.

Main Street was where wealthy captains constructed grand, impressive houses. At one point the road was called High Street or Captain’s Walk after the stately homes. It even held the name Murray Hill — a reference to the upscale Manhattan neighborhood.

An example of the upper-class-style house is the Ebenezer W. Case House at 527 Main St. Mr. Case resided there through the mid-1800s. The two-story house is a vintage Victorian with a side bay window and a double front door.

Sterling Street was also the site of prominent homes. Built in 1835, the waterfront residence at 162 Sterling was home to the president of New York City Fire Insurance Co. The house, set on spacious grounds, has several unique features, including a Palladian style window in the front gable and wood fanlight carving in the gable.

Many of the multi-room houses in the village were later transformed into bed-and-breakfasts.

Today, Greenport’s Historic Preservation Commission keeps a watchful eye on its oldest residences, and has even published a pamphlet, “Recommendations for Homeowners,” as a guide for protecting the historic integrity of the buildings.

cmurray@timesreview.com