East End ‘Buying Spree’ Spiked Community Preservation Fund 79-Percent in 2020

240 Briar Lane, Southold
The sale of 240 Briar Lane in Southold for just under $5 million was the biggest sale of the year in that town, helping to add to the bump in the community preservation fund. Credit: Douglas Elliman

While it was no surprise to those watching the East End real estate market boom last year, the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund revenues for 2020 eclipsed the previous year by a whopping 79% and the final figures for December revealed the best month yet.

“By a wide margin, 2020 was a record for revenue for the Community Preservation Fund,” says Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., the architect of the CPF, which is funded by a 2% real estate transfer tax since 1999.

“The $139.2 million in revenue exceeds the next highest year in 2014 by nearly 30%. The pandemic sparked a buying spree in real estate on the East End, as residents from New York City and other urban areas fled to our region. The record revenues  represent the transfer of more than $7 billion in real estate for the year.”

Each month, Thiele reports the figures, and it was clear early on that 2020 was going to produce the highest annual CPF figure  in the fund’s 22-year history, topping even the $107.69 million generated in 2014.

But, the year closed out even better than expected with December 2020 bringing in a total of $21.31 million, the highest single month in the program’s history. The revenue generated in October 2020 had set the record at $17.93 million, outdoing the prior record of $14.43 million in December 2014.

Most buyers have to pay a 2% CPF tax at closing, which goes into a fund that each of the five East End towns can use toward preserving open land. Since its inception, the the Peconic Bay Regional Community Preservation Fund has generated $1.6 billion.

In 2020, the small Town of Shelter Island saw the largest jump in revenues over 2019 — a 100% increase from $1.54 million to $3.08 million, according to Thiele.

Meanwhile, Southampton Town and East Hampton Town took in mind-boggling figures. Southampton received $80.71 million, up 88.3% from 2019’s figure of $42.86 million, while East Hampton saw an 80.8% increase in revenues from $22.65 million to $40.94 million.

The North Fork real estate market was bustling too. Riverhead Town took in 44.4% more for its community preservation fund, $4.94 million as opposed to $3.42 million in 2019. Southold Town saw the smallest increase — still a large number at 31.6% — from $7.41 million to $9.75 million this year.

“These revenues present opportunities for local government to accelerate land preservation and water quality improvements as well as an opportunity to retire debt incurred to front load land acquisition efforts over the past 20 years,” Thiele explains. “It is imperative that this influx of cash be spent wisely to insure that the purposes of the fund are strictly complied with. While it is unclear how long this land rush will last, it presents a golden opportunity to continue to protect the community character of the Peconic Bay region.”

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