The topic of zoning alone rarely draws much a crowd to a meeting. But when a specific development application is up for discussion, said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, “we get 200 people out.”
Speaking at Monday night’s meeting of the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association, titled “All Things Moratorium,” Mr. Russell encouraged residents to get more involved in monitoring the planning process at earlier stages. The meeting at the Mattituck American Legion centered on the question of whether a moratorium on new building applications in Mattituck should be considered.
A moratorium generally halts the processing of building applications while new zoning is devised. The idea of stopping the processing of these applications is to prevent a rush of new applications before the zoning is changed, officials say.
Civic association president Mary Eisenstein said Monday there are actually more than seven development applications now pending in Mattituck, headlined by the controversial Sports East facility across from the former Capital One building on Main Road.
“I don’t know if the goal here tonight is to bring everything under moratorium in Mattituck or not,” Mr. Russell said to the group of about 40 people. “I don’t think that’s tenable. But certainly, become more engaged in the process of those applications that are going through the process now. They all require public hearings.”
Part of the civic association’s goal is to inform and educate people, Ms. Eisenstein said. She also encouraged people to get more involved in following the planning process in Southold Town.
“A moratorium can’t be used to just stop applications in their tracks because there are ‘too many,’ ” Mr. Russell said in a follow-up email, adding that without clearly defined goals, a moratorium “simply isn’t legally defendable.”
Mr. Russell had proposed a moratorium on new wineries, breweries and distilleries in November, but the idea lacked support from the rest of the Town Board and was dropped a month later.
The supervisor was one of three speakers on a panel about moratoriums and an information-gathering approach known as a “charrette.”
The other speakers were Eric Alexander from the nonprofit Vision Long Island and Dan Gulizio, a former deputy planning director for Suffolk County who is currently executive director of the nonprofit watchdog group Peconic Baykeeper.
Mr. Russell said Southold Town has enacted seven moratoriums since 1985. Some have led to the creation of valuable new zoning, such as the conservation subdivision, which provided developers with incentives to reduce the amount of construction.
Other have not amounted to much, the supervisor said, citing an example from 2004. That moratorium resulted in zoning that would have allowed construction of a controversial house near wetlands — a project that had prompted the moratorium in the first place.
“It shows that maybe a moratorium isn’t the best course of action as an impulse to a specific application,” he said. “That was a moratorium that really achieved very little in that case.”
In order to adopt a moratorium, the town has to have a valid purpose or justification for doing so, and has to define its goals in seeking the moratorium, Mr. Russell said.
It also has to show that the burden of the moratorium isn’t focused on a certain group or property, he said.
“The goals have to be specific and the purpose has to be narrowly defined. And the goals have to be tenable,” Mr. Russell said, adding that it can’t be used to stop a specific project.
Moratoriums also have to provide for exemptions in order to be legally defendable, he said.
If an applicant has already invested a lot of time into a project before a moratorium is enacted, that application will likely be exempt from the moratorium, the supervisor said.
Mr. Alexander, who lives in Northport, said he hasn’t often been invited to speak on the East End.
“There are places in much worse shape than you guys,” he told the audience Monday. “You’ve done a great job, but how do you maintain that? There’s incredible development pressure coming from the private sector and the public sector. You’ve got a governor who’s pushing development everywhere.”
The idea of a charrette, Mr. Alexander explained, is to get all the stakeholders together and to get as much information as possible when considering new zoning.
Oftentimes, the same people show up at government meetings, he said.
“There are about 1,000 people that think they are in charge of Long Island,” he said. “In our view, 50 to 100 people in every community decide stuff.”
Mr. Alexander said charrettes need to be driven by the community — “and not just the people who agree with you.”
Photo caption: Southold Town supervisor Scott Russell speaks at Monday night’s meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon)