Smithtown officials are being asked back a plan by Suffolk County to rehabilitate dozens of abandoned properties that show signs of possible environmental contamination.
Sarah Lansdale, Suffolk County's planning director, said the county would be applying to the New York’s Empire State Development Corp. 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 unsuccessfully applied 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, including two potential properties in the Town of Smithtown.
Suffolk officials were not willing to identify those properties being considered for the land bank program until the county's application is approved.
However, Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio recently said both of the potentially contaminated sites in the township being considered for the land bank are in the Kings Park area.
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 received 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 interested in acquiring these properties - on some not all depending on the environmental issues – for redevelopment."
The county would like Smithtown 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.
Vecchio did not give any indication whether a resolution to support the county's land bank proposal would be put up for a vote on Jan. 24.