The National Park Service Should Improve Its Land Acquisition and Management at the Fire Island National Seashore

CED-81-78: Published: May 8, 1981. Publicly Released: May 26, 1981.

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The National Park Service's zoning standards at Fire Island National Seashore are more restrictive than necessary to meet the requirements of Federal regulations, and the Park Service is unnecessarily acquiring private lands at Fire Island. GAO was requested to review these issues.

The Park Service issued zoning standards for Fire Island in September 1980 that were to be followed by local communities. The applicable regulations protect property owners in existing developed communities from the threat of condemnation and undue intervention by the Federal Government. The Park Service's zoning standards are particularly restrictive for homes that have to be rebuilt after being damaged or destroyed by a catastrophe. In addition, the Park Service's zoning standards restrict some property owners from increasing the size of their homes. GAO believes that the applicable regulations permit these property owners to increase the size of their homes. The Park Service acquired a number of properties on which the owners had built at variance with the local community's zoning ordinances. Many of these variances do not appear to harm Fire Island's natural resources. The applicable regulation allows, but does not require, the Park Service to condemn properties with variances. However, the Park Service routinely objects to almost all variances granted by the local communities apparently to be in a position to condemn the properties when funding is available. Park Service letters to a Senate committee requesting authority to take Fire Island properties do not specify the reasons for acquisition. The draft land plan for Fire Island is inconsistent with the Park Service's land acquisition policy.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should exempt land acquired from the 2-year limitation stipulated in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, as amended. The purpose of this recommendation was to give the last owner(s) in the recreation area the right to match the highest bid price and require property sold to the National Park Service.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to sell to the highest bidder all acquired lands in exempt communities that are compatible with the purposes of Fire Island. The previous owner should be offered first opportunity to reacquire the property at the highest bid price unless the Park Service can demonstrate that the last owner's use of the property adversely affected Fire Island's natural resources. The Park Service could attach scenic or developmental restrictions to the deeds before selling the properties to assure that their use will be consistent with the enabling legislation.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to revise the Fire Island acquisition plan to state (1) more specifically the circumstances under which properties will be acquired; and (2) that all properties will not be acquired just because they were rebuilt at variance with a local ordinance.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to explain in its letters to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources requesting declarations of taking specifically why variances would adversely affect Fire Island's natural resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director of the National Park Service to stop routinely objecting to variances, unless the Park Service specifically shows why the variances would harm Fire Island's natural resources, and revise the zoning standards accordingly.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of the National Park Service to revise the Fire Island zoning standards to make it clear that homes rebuilt or improved in accordance with approved variances to local zoning ordinances will not be subject to condemnation unless the variances adversely affect Fire Island's natural resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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