On March 28, 2018, the Babylon Town Board adopted a moratorium on any new land use applications that seek to increase a parcel’s wastewater limits established by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services (“SCDHS”) by utilizing Pine Barrens Credits (“PBC”), which effectively transfer development rights from other parts of Suffolk County to properties within the Town of Babylon. During the period of the moratorium, the Town plans to study the potential impacts to groundwater from allowing developers to increase development density by acquiring PBCs.
The concept of transferring development rights using PBCs derives from the Long Island Pine Barrens Maritime Reserve Act, which was adopted in 1993 for the purpose of protecting approximately 100,000 acres of the Long Island Pine Barrens located within the towns of Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton. As one method of land preservation, the Act authorizes the creation of a transfer of development rights (“TDR”) program, the specifics of which are set forth in the Central Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan (“Plan”). Under the TDR program, a PBC can be used to transfer the development potential from a parcel of property within the protected Pine Barrens Core Preservation Area (“Core”), or other environmentally-sensitive area identified in the Plan (a “sending parcel”), to a parcel in a designated area outside the Core (a “receiving parcel”). Upon acceptance of the PBC, the sending parcel’s development rights are transferred to the receiving parcel, which may now be developed more intensely. For a more detailed discussion of the Pine Barrens TDR program, see John Armentano’s blog post, Pine Barren Credits – There’s Money In Those Trees.
Historically, PBCs have been accepted by several towns and by the SCDHS to permit a new development project, or an expansion or change of use of an existing building, that will result in a wastewater discharge (effluent loading) that exceeds the SCDHS’s allowable sanitary flow rate for parcels that are served by an individual on-site sewerage system (i.e., not connected to a municipal sewer system). The allowable flow rate for a particular parcel is set forth in Article 6 of the Suffolk County Sanitary Code and is calculated based on the proposed use, and size of the building and the parcel on which it sits, as well as the hydrogeological (groundwater recharge) zone in which the parcel is located. A PBC may be used to permit additional effluent loading up to a maximum of twice the allowable density.
Following the recent approval of two development projects in North Babylon and Deer Park, the Town has decided to take a closer look at the environmental consequences of allowing for increased density. According to Richard Groh, the Town’s chief environmental analyst, the Town’s planning and environmental control departments have formed a working group to study the impacts to groundwater that will result from continuing the practice of accepting PBCs to increase development density. Upon completion of the study, the group will submit its recommendations to the Town Board for consideration.