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County Seeks Brookhaven's Backing For Land Bank Creation

Town officials asked to support Suffolk's efforts to create nonprofit to rehabilitate vacant commercial sites.

Brookhaven Town officials are being asked to support Suffolk County's latest attempt to rehabilitate abandoned properties that show signs of possible environmental contamination. 

Sarah Lansdale, Suffolk County's planning director, said the County would be applying to New York’s Empire State Development Corporation for approval to create a county-wide Land Bank. In order to create a land bank, County officials need the support of town governments. 

In 2011, New York passed legislation that allowed for the creation of 10 land banks across the state, Lansdale said. Suffolk applied unsuccessfully in 2012. 

"By definition, land banks act as a legal and financial mechanism to transform vacant or abandoned properties,” she said.

There are 124 sites across Suffolk that County officials would like to eradicate of possible environmental contamination and redevelop for commercial or industrial use. There are eight properties in the Town of Brookhaven.

Suffolk officials were not willing to identify those properties being considered for the land bank program until the County's application is approved. 

There are legal and liability issues that currently prohibit the County from seizing these properties for overdue taxes and selling off the land. When a commercial or industrial property is environmentally contaminated, any business or governmental entity that takes ownership is then held responsible for cleanup costs. 

While these contaminated lands are vacant, often abandoned by their owners, Suffolk continues to pay property taxes to ensure local townships and school districts continue to receive much needed funding, Lansdale said. Back taxes are placed as a lien on the property.

State law requires Suffolk, if it seizes a property for overdue taxes, to sell it at a price that would pay off the overdue tax liens. On properties that have been abandoned for years, Lansdale said the accumulated taxes would put the minimum sale price at far more than the contaminated land can be sold for on the open market. 

"The land bank designation would be a way to transfer these tax liens to the land bank, and the land bank will allow us to sell these properties for less than the back taxes owed," Lansdale said. "There is an interest in acquiring these properties - on some not all depending on the environmental issues - for redevelopment." 

The county would like Brookhaven officials to pass a resolution that they support a Suffolk County Land Bank before Jan. 31 as a way to bolster the County’s application. The next Town Board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 22.

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine said he is willing to support County officials only if they are seeking support for the legislation. "If this is the method they want to give a shot, as long as the Town is not on the hook for anything, than I am more than willing to say yes," he said.

Romaine, who as a member of the County Legislature, voted to create a land bank, said he will put a resolution to support the County's land bank application before the Town Board on Jan. 22.

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