Southolders turned out en masse for a discussion at the East Marion firehouse Saturday morning on the town’s land preservation goals.
It seemed the biggest concern among those on hand was being sure the town makes public its priority list for open space preservation, as well as the criteria for how land is selected for preservation.
Attendees also asked if the town could provide public access to the legal paperwork for preserved land, so that residents could determine if land owners are violating those easements.
“If we understand the criteria that goes into the process, there will be more confidence” in the town’s decision to buy open land, said Drianne Benner of Orient.
Tom Foster, who lives in Peconic and owns land in Orient, said that the criteria for buying open space, as opposed to farmland, are less clear than it should be.
“Should we spend $13 million on Bittner” — a recent open space purchase in Peconic on the Sound — “or $13 million on lots of smaller properties?” he asked.
Lillian Ball, a Peconic resident who serves on the town’s land preservation committee, said the committee spends many hours discussing the criteria for which properties should be preserved. The fact that property owners are willing to sell their properties for conservation also plays a role in determining which parcels are eventually preserved, she added.
She said criteria for open space preservation range from scenic vistas to the natural resources on a given parcel to the importance of the groundwater aquifer beneath the land. And the offers they receive from landowners who want their property conserved are also a consideration.
“Occasionally we get offered something that’s a tremendous deal,” she said.
Another major concern was the town’s plan to zone Plum Island before the federal government sells the 840-acre island.
A plan to zone the island has been in the works for several years but has not yet be completed — in part because the town has been waiting to receive an inventory of the island’s natural resources as well as a draft environmental impact statement on the sale. A public meeting on that study will be held at Greenport High School on Oct. 18.
Planning Director Heather Lanza said Southold plans to zone Plum Island this fall.
Ruth Anne Bramson of East Marion, who is working on a book about Plum Island’s history and has led several historical society tours of the island, said she hopes the zoning takes into account the historical significance of the island.
In addition to the 19th-century fort on the island, she said a grave of a soldier from the Revolutionary war, Thomas Gardiner, is also on the island.
“It’s a very interesting microcosm of American history and culture,” she said.
Other people at the meeting said they would like the town to give the island a residential zoning classification for now, and then fill in the particulars later. There has never been any zoning on the island, which has been in federal hands since before Southold Town zoning existed.
A second meeting will be held this Thursday, Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. at the Peconic Lane Community Center.