The bill does two things. First, it retroactively redefines the permissible uses of agricultural lands where development rights have already been sold. The bill inserts a new definition of “farm operation” that would contradict local law and voter sentiment that no new permanent farm structures can be constructed on PDR lands. Second, it represents an egregious attempt to overrule the wisdom of Suffolk County voters and the opinions of the courts that have both stated what is permissible for agricultural lands under the PDR. A recent New York State Supreme Court ruling struck down a local law that changed the definition (Long Island Pine Barrens Society, Inc. C Suffolk County Legislature 2016 NY Slip Op 26321). The judge ruled that changes in the definition could only be done through another public referendum.
By redefining use terms and overruling the will of voters and opinions of the courts, the bill undermines the trust of voters who supported one thing on the ballot only to see it modified elsewhere. The change in definition also has significant environmental and public health consequences as it would permit permanent structures that exacerbate runoff into sensitive aquifers and ecosystems, further impacting public health through contaminated drinking and surface waters.
The voters of Suffolk County want clean air, water and sustainable communities. If the agricultural community seeks to redefine use of land, the question should be posed to the voters who have already spoken.
This bill amends state law to change the definition of “farm operation” for real property acquired for the preservation of open space in Suffolk County.