Local officials blast Cuomo for veto of Chester's land preservation bill

Chester. The bill Chester wanted would have allowed the town to raise money for the purchases of land or the development rights to land through a tax on property sales.

26 Nov 2019 | 03:39

Local officials blasted a veto by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that nixed the Town of Chester's proposal to buy land in town or the development rights to the land.

The bill Chester wanted would have allowed the town to raise money for the purchases through a tax on property sales. Neighboring Warwick has an active purchase of development rights (PDR) program. Goshen's once-active program bought up the rights to several farms before falling into disuse.

The Chester land preservation bill had handily passed the state Senate and Assembly but was stopped at the governor's desk.

NYS Assemblyman Colin J. Schmitt (R-New Windsor) said he was "greatly discouraged and angered" by the governor's veto.

"The PDR (purchase of development rights) legislation had overwhelming bipartisan support locally and in the state legislature along with robust support from local, regional and statewide conservation and preservation groups," he said in a statement. "The PDR model is a proven one that has had monumental success in Warwick and towns across the state. Preserving land and protecting our communities, natural resources and environment is the issue of our time. I will not yield or relent in my efforts to continue to advocate for preservation for my district and our entire state in the Assembly."

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, a former Chester town supervisor, called it "a sad day for open space preservation in Chester. This would have created an even greater opportunity to build a legacy that protects important open space with a funding mechanism to do so. I’m hoping in the future that the Town of Chester will have another opportunity to have this legislation passed.”

Stephen Keahon and Kristi Greco of Preserve Chester said, "To say we are disappointed would be an understatement. Chester’s PDR is about protecting our farms, water and all our resident’s way of life now and in the future. It is a shame that this legislation got pulled into a lawsuit that really has nothing to do with this. Chester has been working on this since 2013. This was calculated and Cuomo once again showed he does not care about the people of Orange County unless they can line his pockets. That is certainly not what it means to represent the people of this state."

NYS Senator James Senator Skoufis said that while the veto is disappointing, "it is incumbent upon everyone involved to regroup and find an alternative way forward so that open space and farmland can be protected in Chester."

'Tainted by exclusionary aims'

Not everyone was critical of the veto, however.

Livy Schwartz, developer of The Greens at Chester, said he "favors sensible planning that preserves open space and local traditions. Unfortunately, the Chester PDR bill was a highly flawed instrument for achieving those worthy goals. The PDR was promoted by town officials as an instrument of exclusion: a way to 'ensure that we keep our town . . . so that others can't get to it.' Or: 'You're not going to stop everybody from moving in, but if we could stop 'em a little bit, that's better than nothing.' We commend the governor for vetoing this flawed bill. The Greens will support other preservation initiatives that are not tainted by exclusionary aims."

Warwick's PDR program started with a bond of $9.5 million and is supplemented by fees added to property purchases that are generally less than title fees. Goshen's PDR program started with a $5 million bond but is no longer active.