[HISTORY: Adopted by the Suffolk County Legislature 8-14-1990 by L.L. No. 27-1990 (Ch. 25 of the 1985 Code). Amendments noted where applicable. Uncodified sections of local laws amending these provisions are included at the end of this chapter.]
This Legislature hereby finds and determines that, in order to implement the County policy of conserving, preserving and protecting its environmental assets and natural and man-made resources; its open spaces; its agricultural and forest lands; areas which are significant because of their scenic or natural beauty or wetland, shoreline, geological or ecological character; and areas which are significant because of their historical, archaeological, architectural or cultural amenities, a procedure must be established for the acquisition of conservation easements critical to the enhancement and improvement of recreational opportunities, tourism, community attractiveness, balanced economic growth and the quality of life for all citizens of Suffolk County. Therefore, the purpose of this chapter is to establish a formal mechanism for the acquisition of conservation easements by the County of Suffolk.
As used in this chapter, the following terms shall have the meanings indicated:
- The Board of Trustees of the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation.
- CONSERVATION EASEMENT
- An easement, covenant, restriction or other interest in real property, created under and subject to the provisions of this chapter, which limits or restricts development, management or use of such real property for the purpose of preserving or maintaining the scenic, open, historic, archaeological, architectural or natural condition, character, significance or amenities of the real property in question.
- The Suffolk County Department of Environment and Energy, Division of Real Property Acquisition and Management.
- NOT-FOR-PROFIT CONSERVATION ORGANIZATION
- A not-for-profit corporation organized, inter alia, for the conservation or preservation of real property and which has the power to acquire interests in real property. Such organization must have qualified as exempt for federal tax purposes pursuant to Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code or any similar successor statutory provisions.
- OPEN SPACE or OPEN AREA
- Any space or area characterized by natural scenic beauty or whose existing openness, natural condition or present state of use, if retained, would enhance the present or potential value of abutting or surrounding urban development or would maintain or enhance the conservation of natural or scenic resources. For the purposes of this definition, natural resources shall include, but not be limited to, agricultural lands, defined as "open lands," actually used in bona fide agricultural production.
- THIRD-PARTY-ENFORCEMENT RIGHT
- A right which may be granted in a conservation easement which empowers a public body or a not-for-profit conservation organization which is not a holder of the easement to enforce any of the terms of the easement.
Any owner or owners of real property located and situated within the County of Suffolk may submit a proposal to the Board and Department for the granting of a conservation easement. Such proposal shall be submitted in such manner and form as may be prescribed by said Board and shall include a survey map and a metes-and-bounds description of the proposed area to be granted as such an easement.
Review by Board. Upon receipt of such proposal, the Board shall investigate, or cause to be investigated by the Department, the area to determine if the proposal would be of benefit to the people of the County of Suffolk. The Department may also negotiate the terms and conditions of the offer if requested to do so by the Board. If the Board determines that it is in the public interest to accept such a proposal, it shall recommend to the County Legislature that it hold a public hearing for the purpose of determining whether or not the County should accept such proposal.
Public hearing by Legislature. The County Legislature shall, within 45 days after receipt of such recommendation, hold at least one public hearing concerning such proposal. At least five days' notice of the time and place of such hearing shall be published in the official newspapers of the County of Suffolk. A copy of said notice shall also be posted in each of the offices of the Suffolk County Clerk and the Clerk of the County Legislature.
Determination. The County Legislature, after receiving the reports of the Board and after such public hearing as is required by Subsection C of this section, may adopt the proposal or any modification thereof it deems appropriate or may reject the proposal in its entirety.
Recording agreement. If such proposal is adopted by the County Legislature, the agreement granting the conservation easement shall be executed by the owner or owners in written form and in a form suitable for recording in the Suffolk County Clerk's office.
All conservation easement proposals accepted by the County Legislature pursuant to § 25-3D of this chapter shall be reduced to a written agreement in a form acceptable to the County Department of Law, but, at a minimum, should meet the following standards:
In the case of agricultural land used for agricultural production, as defined in § 301 of the New York Agriculture and Markets Law, the grantor shall agree that the land under the easement will not be developed, built upon or otherwise changed during the term of the conservation easement, except that agricultural operations shall be permitted.
In all other cases, the grantor shall agree that the land under the easement will not be developed, built upon or otherwise changed during the term of the conservation easement, except that bona fide conservation measures may be permitted pursuant to a conservation management plan approved by the Board.
Land covered by a conservation easement may be sold. The terms and conditions of the conservation easement shall constitute covenants that shall run with the land and shall continue in full force and effect during the entire term of the conservation easement.
A conservation easement may not be alienated by the County except by charter law subject to mandatory referendum.
Conservation easements shall have minimum terms of five years. There shall be no maximum term, and conservation easements may be perpetual in duration.
Conservation easements shall contain third-party-enforcement rights.
Where the parcel covered by the conservation easement contains a principal dwelling or other buildings and structures, said dwelling, buildings or structures shall be excepted from the conservation easement.
A conservation easement held by a not-for-profit conservation organization may only be modified or extinguished:
This chapter shall apply to all conservation easements granted or obtained on or after the effective date of this chapter.
This chapter shall not affect any interests or rights in real property which are not conservation easements and shall not affect the rights of owners to convey any interests in real property which they could now create under existing law without reference to the terms of this chapter. Nothing in this chapter shall diminish the powers granted by any other law to acquire interests or rights in real property by purchase, gift, eminent domain or otherwise and to use the same for public purposes. Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to alter the authority otherwise available to any public body to acquire conservation easements for these purposes by eminent domain.