In the ideal world envisioned by Southold Town’s planning consultants, residents will be able to buy whatever they need to live without going beyond the boundaries of the town — a scenic and vibrant place where open space and farmland have been protected from sprawl.
Nature enthusiasts will be able to kayak along what the planners call “blueways” — water paths along the town’s shorelines; zoning will be redefined according to the distinct characteristics of each hamlet; the town will encourage businesses to occupy vacant storefronts; and it will lead the way to an environmentally sustainable future by incorporating cutting-edge green design in its public facilities.
But first, Southold’s master plan update must be finished.
On Saturday morning, more than 60 residents of the town’s easternmost reaches crowded into the East Marion firehouse to hear the consultants’ ideas — and add their own — for revising Southold’s comprehensive plan, which dates back to the mid-1980s. The Town Board decided in 2009 it was time to revise it. Saturday’s session was the first of many to be held as the planners release draft chapters of an overall proposal for updating the comprehensive plan.
The first chapter, the subject of Saturday’s session, focuses on economic development and “provides the underpinnings to the other chapters” to come, explained Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who attended the forum with three other Town Board members. The 38-page chapter, available on the town’s website, was drafted by an economist at the consulting firm of Nelson, Pope & Voorhis. The rest of the plan, to be unveiled in upcoming months, is being written by the town’s planning staff.
Mr. Russell said that finding the right balance between land preservation and the economy is a crucial part of the update process.
Planning director Heather Lanza, who presented an outline of the economic chapter Saturday morning, said that the first of many goals is to create an economic development committee.
After Ms. Lanza’s presentation, attendees broke into six groups to discuss individual aspects of the plan. The three Town Board members — Al Krupski, Bill Ruland and Vincent Orlando — were in the group that discussed the composition of the economic development committee.
“There are great resources of retired captains of industry” who live in Southold, said Mr. Krupski. “They have a lot to offer and they have a motive. They moved here because they like it here and they want to keep it the way it is.”
Mr. Ruland said that local businesspeople must also be involved. “They’ve sucked it up in the worst times and they’ve prospered in the best,” he said.
Mr. Orlando insisted that college students raised in Southold who are studying business should also be tapped for the committee, because of their studies of modern business practices.
Southold resident John Betsch, also in the group focused on the economic development committee, told the rest of the attendees what the group was looking for.
“Personality is the most important thing. Based on personality, it can go all different ways,” he said. “And enthusiasm. It’s going to drive everybody else’s goals.”
“Without a quality committee, we won’t get anything done,” said Mr. Orlando.
Orient resident Rona Smith was in the group charged with discussing the balancing act between economic growth and the natural environment.
“A lot of this is a little bit abstract,” she said. “The whole idea of balance is a difficult one. Is balance 50/50?”
She said that many people who have considered opening a business in Southold feel the town isn’t business-friendly. The time it takes for a new business to go through the planning review process, she added, can eat away start-up funds before a business can open its doors.
She said that her group was keen on the idea of a business ombudsman to help business owners through the review process and also see that businesses give something back to the community. For example, she said, someone who wants to open an ice cream shop should be encouraged to teach high school students how to run a small business.
“You have to be involved in town if you want to have a business here,” she said.
The town has considered the idea of an ombudsman before, according to Mr. Russell, but “the last thing we want to create is an ‘in’ man for special interests,” he said.
He joked that other board members were considering controversial North Fork developer Emanuel “Manny” Kontokosta for the ombudsman position. Over the years Mr. Kontokosta has filed numerous lawsuits against the town over building plans that have failed to win approval.
“We’re not sure how you play Solomon to determine what’s best for the community,” Mr. Russell added.
Another concern for Ms. Smith’s group, she said, was a lack of affordable housing for young people and workers in Southold. A new accessory apartment provision added to the town code last year was cost-prohibitive for many homeowners, she said.
“You need to create a bathroom and a kitchen. Many homeowners don’t have the wherewithal to do that,” she said. “It’s a bit of a problem in this financial environment. The initial capital outlay is significant.”
The next public meeting to discuss the economic development chapter will be held Monday, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m. at the Southold Town Recreation Center on Peconic Lane in Peconic.
The full text of the chapter is available at: http://southoldtown.northfork.net/Planning/Southold%202020/2020PubComment.htm