Creating zoning to fit Fishers Island’s ‘unique needs’

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Southold Town is considering the creation of zoning specific to Fishers island.

Fishers Island is a separate and distinct part of Southold Town, so why doesn’t the island have separate and distinct zoning?

During last week’s annual Town Board meeting on the island, Southold planning director Heather Lanza said Fishers Islanders should pay particular attention to the town comprehensive plan’s land use chapter because the board is “considering Fishers Island-specific zoning.”

She added that the board did not yet know what such zoning changes might entail.

“We want to create zoning that could be tailored to fit Fishers Island’s unique needs,” Ms. Lanza said. “We think that’s supportable and we’re looking to do that with other hamlets, too.”

Said Supervisor Scott Russell, “The reality is that current zoning is a one size fits all approach that may not work in all cases.” He added that land use should be evaluated in the context of where it is, the character of the surrounding community, demographics and available infrastructure to accommodate the prescribed use.

He said Fishers Island is similar to each of Southold Town’s other hamlets only insofar as they are all different.

“That may seem contradictory,” the supervisor said, “but the reality is that commercial zoning that may work in Mattituck may not work in Orient or on Fishers Island. The current code applies the general land use regulation and the idea is that we need to develop new land use zoning that is as particular and unique as the character of each hamlet.”

Island residents voiced concerns on several other topics, including the trimming of local roadside trees, painting lines on the roads near the ferry district, improvements to the island’s bike path and the growth of invasive plants that residents have noticed over the last few years.

Regarding invasive plants, Joe Henderson said he formed a group 18 months ago to stem what he called “the green tide.” The group has since become a subcommittee of the Fishers Island Conservancy and is having a positive effect in fighting back against the invasive plants.

“The grasslands are much better than what they were,” Mr. Henderson said. “I think it’s something individuals are now pitching into.”

Fishers Island Justice Louisa Evans said the Town Board is aware of those efforts and has seen a plan he’d created in reference to the mostly exotic invasive vines.

Councilman Al Krupski Jr. commented that the look of the parade grounds has been much improved due to those efforts.

Regarding the continuing question of the ratio between town services received to town taxes paid, Tom O’Neill commented that following a hamlet study done a few years ago, “there’s a general frustration as to the attention [Fishers Island] is getting from Southold and the community tax dollars the community has been getting” versus money being spent elsewhere. He later expressed concern about the dwindling number of year-round island residents.

“I will tell you the challenges Fishers Island faces in its year-round critical mass is a challenge that’s being faced by all the other hamlets in Southold Town,” Supervisor Russell said. He added that the challenges are not limited to the availability of affordable housing and include a lack of meaningful employment.

“That is precisely why we created the Economic Advisory Council,” he continued, “to identify industries that we can attract or that maybe already exist that we can help expand and employ local people and provide career employment to these people.”

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