No. 1 Top News Story: Town enacts Plum Island zoning

FILE PHOTO | Town passes Plum Island zoning.
FILE PHOTO | Southold Town passed Plum Island zoning in 2013.

Preparing for the federal government’s planned sale of Plum Island, Southold Town passed a much-anticipated zoning proposal for the 840-acre island this year.

The effort to enact zoning on the island started two-and-a-half years ago after the federal government decided to close the animal disease research laboratory at Plum Island, which employs close to 360 people, and use the profits from the island’s sale to cover the cost of building a new, $1.1 billion laboratory in Manhattan, Kan.

This year, pressure to pass zoning for the island, which has been federally owned since the late 19th century, intensified when the U.S. General Services Administration suggested the government sell the land to a private developer for construction of up to 500 houses. In October, Donald Trump has expressed interest in building a golf course on the island.

But the town had already taken steps to ensure such a project won’t pop up on the island.

The town created two principal zoning districts on Plum Island, neither of which permits the construction of commercial or residential structures.

The Plum Island Research District includes the existing lab and the about 176 acres immediately surrounding it, on which additional educational or recreational uses will be allowed. No development will be allowed on another zone 639-acre created — the The Plum Island Conservation District.

Under the original proposal, the town’s current Marine District zoning would have been amended and expanded to apply to the entire island. Residents and business owners, however, argued that the change would make the town’s existing ferry terminals outside Plum Island non-conforming lots, which could lead to problems down the road if those companies sought to build or expand. The town has vowed to take up the Marine District issue at a later date.

Since August, when the government released it final decision to auction the island to the highest bidder, elected leaders such as Congressman Tim Bishop and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have called for further review of the island before the sale continues.

Despite protests, GSA is sticking to the original plan.

Click here for a complete list of our 2013 top news stories.