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Preservation chairman responds to ‘misinformation’: Explains committee aims and limits

Correcting misinformation has become a major task of the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board, which recommends parcels to the Town Board to be purchased and kept from development. The aim of the fund is to retain the rural ambiance of East End towns. Purchases are made with money that comes from a 2% tax paid by property buyers, not from taxes paid by existing residents. 

That hasn’t stopped people from taking to Facebook, Instagram and other online sites to complain about what they think is happening at specific sites and how acquisitions are being financed.

While CPF Advisory Board Chairman Gordon Gooding told his colleagues at Monday morning’s meeting he has tried to ignore what he sees as unfounded criticisms, he reached a point where he felt it necessary to appear at a Feb. 2 Town Board work session to clarify what his committee does; why and how it makes recommendations; and what’s happening with specific properties.

It was the West Neck Preserve property that sparked much of the social media criticism in recent weeks as neighbors saw what they thought was tax money being used to clear the land in ways they disliked. Others thought the money should be directed to creating affordable housing instead of preserving land to keep it free from development.

Apparently the Advisory Board hadn’t done enough to inform the public, Mr. Gooding told the Town Board.

He started with an explanation that CPF money can only be used for two purposes — land preservation and up to 20% of such funds for water quality improvement projects. Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) sponsored the legislation that created the fund and has since twice introduced legislation that would create similar funding for affordable housing, but that legislation has not yet passed.

The Advisory Board recommends sites for preservation based on its examination of parcels and two independent appraisals of each property’s worth. The Town Board ultimately makes the decision to pursue particular parcels.

With respect to the West Neck Preserve, Mr. Gooding said clearing of the site has only involved areas where trees and brush were either dead or affected by invasive species that would further damage other growth.

Sandra O’Connor, whose grandfather acquired the site back in 1910, said the land was an open field, but the family didn’t eliminate growth that developed over the years.

“You’re taking it back to what it was,” she told the Advisory Board at Monday morning’s meeting, confirming that she favors the work being done there. But she asked if the work could be completed sooner rather than later.

Mr. Gooding said completing the site is a high priority, but weather has slowed work and it can’t resume while the ground is saturated.

To a suggestion that he post a sign at the site in order to show what the parcel will look like when work is completed, he said there could be changes that happen as circumstances merit. “There’s always going to be resistance to anything new,” Mr. Gooding said.

Councilman Jim Colligan said he’s happy to see some meadowland opened up for birds and wildlife.

Mr. Gooding asked new Advisory Board member Tim Purtell to head up an educational effort to improve communications with the public.