Town Buys Land As Fund Swells

    Income from a real estate transfer tax into the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund continued to rise this year in all five East End towns, providing money for the public purchase of land for open space, historic preservation, and farmland protection.

    In East Hampton, the fund has swelled to about $42 million, Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and management, said Tuesday. Of that, $2.7 million will be spent this year on debt from previous land purchases.

    The town closed just last week on five open space lots totaling 1.8 acres on Copeces Lane in Springs, for $1.8 million, and it has money earmarked for another five acquisitions. They include almost three acres off Old Stone Highway, along Accabonac Harbor in Springs, a wetland lot in Montauk, as well as money for the purchase of development rights, with the Peconic Land Trust, on almost 10 acres of Stony Hill Farm in Amagansett. The aquifer at Stony Hill is understood to supply drinking water to the surrounding hamlets.

    Only a handful of large parcels, including woods and farmland, remain in the town’s sights, Mr. Wilson said, as many large tracts of open land have already been preserved.    

    Between 15 and 20 appraisals have been ordered by the town this year on potential purchases, and another 15 to 18 are expected to be ordered before the end of 2013, Mr. Wilson said. The town has offered to buy about half a dozen other properties, he said, although community preservation money can only be used to buy land for which there is a willing seller.

    In 2012, East Hampton Town purchased 16 parcels of land using the community preservation account. This year, Mr. Wilson said, the total is expected to be 13. During the first seven months of this year, the real estate transfer tax earned East Hampton $16.8 million, compared to $10.4 million during the same period last year.

    In all five towns, this year’s January through July total reached $52 million from a total of 4,840 real estate transactions, versus $34.5 million last year stemming from 3,533 sales. Since its inception in 1999, the Peconic Bay Regional Community Preservation Fund has generated $841.9 million. According to Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., an author of the legislation establishing the fund, this year’s  revenues are on track to be the highest annual total since 2007, at more than $90 million.

    The fund’s revenue for the first seven months of this year grew by more than 119 percent on Shelter Island, with $1.3 million coming in, and by approximately 50 percent in both Riverhead and Southampton Towns, with revenues, respectively, of $1.3 million and $30.8 million. In Southold, this year’s revenues so far are up 10 percent, to $2.2 million.