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By Remy C. Orffeo

In January 1993 the Orchard Park Town Board, under the leadership of Supervisor Dennis Mill and Council Member Nan Ackerman, granted its first conservation easements. Now, 21 years later, the first easement has come up for renewal and been approved by the Town Board. Supervisor Patrick J. Keem and Council Members Eugene Majchrzak and Michael J. Sherry have continued the commitment to open space started more than 20 years ago.

The program is an effort to preserve green space, which not only helps maintain the rural character of Orchard Park but prevents overdevelopment. Property owners commit to not building on the land placed in the easement for a minimum of 15 years and, in exchange, receive a small reduction in their property taxes. In a state as overtaxed as New York, it is good to offer tax relief for the purpose of maintaining green space. To withdraw from the easement requires agreement between the town and the landowner. There is a financial penalty to the landowner for developing the property after receiving an easement designation.

Administered by the Planning Department, Town Assessor and the Conservation Board, potential parcels must be at least five acres in size and meet a predetermined criteria. The program’s mission is to preserve land and upland properties that have the potential to be developed but provide a benefit to the town by remaining green space.

The program did encounter an obstacle that threatened its existence. In 2007, the Town of Orchard Park was informed by the New York State Real Property Services Division that without legislation by the State Legislature, the program would have to end. Fortunately, then-Sen. Dale Volker and then-Assemblymen Mark Schroeder and Michael Cole offered their assistance and influence to get the appropriate enabling legislation passed. It was not easy, but over the course of two years, many meetings and a lot of frustration, a bill was passed and signed by the governor in August 2009. This legislation also included the Town of Elma.

More than 1,000 acres are in the Orchard Park Conservation Easement program. Each parcel represents a partnership between Orchard Park and its residents to preserve the natural beauty and rural character of the town for future generations.

The conservation easement program is one of many programs and tools the Town of Orchard Park utilizes to ensure that growth is measured and smart. The town has been fortunate over the years to have been served by knowledgeable and visionary elected officials, volunteer committee members and town employees. Their passion has served all of Orchard Park and served it well.

Remy C. Orffeo is planning coordinator for the Town of Orchard Park and the 2014 recipient of the New York Planning Federation’s Levine Award.