Although Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko has taken the Carmans River Plan off the table, council members are trying to resurrect it in a different way. But members of the original study group are saying a new plan will not work and worse it’s just political smoke and mirrors.
On March 29, Lesko withdrew the plan that was 16 months in the making, seemingly killing it.
Surprisingly, it’s not actually dead yet, according to 1st District Councilman Steven Fiore-Rosenfeld. He’s working with 6th District Councilman Dan Panico and 4th District Councilwoman Connie Kepert to breathe new life into the plan in a way they hope better serves communities in Brookhaven.
“It’s the Carmans River protection plan 2.0,” Fiore-Rosenfeld said in a phone interview on Friday.
Fiore-Rosenfeld, along with his fellow board members, are working to break the plan up and put it back together in three separate pieces of legislation that they hope will be done with the backing of the public while drawing on scientific research done by the study group. It also calls for the use of existing Pine Barrens transfer credits instead of creating new receiving sites across the town.
The first part of the new plan is to put together $37 million to buy private property to preserve open space. Most of the money will come from a line item that fell off the tax roll in December to settle money owed to the Shoreham-Wading River School district by the town. Taxpayers will actually see a slight decrease in taxes when compared to paying for the open space initiative, according to Fiore-Rosenfeld.
“People will not feel dollar pain,” he said.
The second part is to up-zone vacant properties that are closest to the Carmans River to prevent dense development. These properties are in what is called a five-year watershed area that if developed will affect the river in that time frame.
Last is the mandatory redemption of existing Pine Barrens credits to trade for building in the area along with a benefits package to the community and additional open space funding.
Fiore-Rosenfeld said the original plan essentially upended the way the town usually does business and did not take into account the best interest of the communities involved.
“It throws out the normal way we did land use,” he said.
His claim is that the public did not have enough input into the receiving sites and the deal was done with a coalition of Long Island builders only interested in their own bottom lines and not the needs of the individual communities.
“The studies are not taking into account the reality of zoning,” Fiore-Rosenfeld said. “I often see eye-to-eye with them but this was a bad deal for the public.”
Dick Amper, a member of the group that drafted the plan and executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, called the motion to redraft the plan “dubious and insulting.”
He challenged the ability of the council members to revise the work of what leading scientists and planning experts on Long Island spent the better part of a year and a half producing.
“These three council members did it in a day?” said Amper. “I’ve got a bridge to sell them.”
He thinks preserving the river through rezoning the acres of private property in the watershed is a temporary solution because the next town board can come along and just overturn it.
He also challenged the plan to purchase open space.
“If there were a fire sale it might protect 350 acres,” Amper said. “But 1,850 acres need to be protected. Where they going to find the other 1,500?”
Fiore-Rosenfeld says his major concern is that the public was not involved in the development of the plan and the location of the receiving sites, but Amper calls his statements a political stunt since during the development period there were 34 public meetings.
“And yet [Fiore-Rosenfeld] says they want this to be a transparent process when their plan involves three councilmen in town hall in three days' time,” he said.
Fiore-Rosenfeld had stated that to develop the new plan there will in fact be a period of public comment before they put pen to paper. They plan to hold meetings at Town Hall on April 26 and May 5.
That’s too late, says Amper. He said they can’t fix the plan in anything less than a year and the state has imposed a deadline of June 2012.
“It’s a last-minute political excuse,” he said. “It’s not a plan to preserve a river.”
Another problem that Fiore-Rosenfeld had with the plan was that it took development rights out of school districts along the river in William Floyd, Longwood and South Country, and dropped them into Comsewogue, Three Village, Middle Country and Rocky Point.
Amper implored the board not to table the plan but to consider revising the receiving sites instead.
“All they had to do–and we begged them to do it–is to pick different sites,” he said. “They said no because they didn’t like the receiving sites? Where have they been for 16 months?”
He said the group had been flexible from the beginning, pointing to the fact that when Fiore-Rosenfeld said the .
Amper is adamant that the new plan will not work. Not only that, the council members may have made some enemies in the process.
“These guys went out and alienated a whole lot of people last week,” he said. “It’s almost as offensive as it is stupid.”
He says that the study group put long hours into developing the science behind the recommendations and the data produced the solution.
“If you throw out the actions that were necessary you throw out the preservation,” Amper said. “Nobody can believe that petty political squabbling could kill a river.”
Fiore-Rosenfeld insists that he’s also trying to save the river but in only in what he thinks is the right way.
“We all want to preserve the Carmans River,” he said. “But by buying open space, up-zoning the property and helping to create a new zoning code through the normal process.”
Amper is not convinced. Scientists and experts worked for months to develop the plan, which he says the council members think they can revise in a matter of days.
“I find myself looking around for Rod Serling because this straight out of the Twilight Zone,” he said. “Where were all these good ideas for a year?”