Shrimp farm proposal has next-door neighbors up in arms

John and Margaret Skabry demand Tuesday night that the Southold Town Board not allow a shrimp farm to be built near their Peconic home.(Credit: Paul Squire)
John and Margaret Skabry demand Tuesday night that the Southold Town Board not allow a shrimp farm to be built near their Peconic home. (Credit: Paul Squire)

For Margaret Skabry of Peconic, the Town Board’s decision on whether to allow a shrimp farm on the property next to hers should have already been made. The answer, she said, should have been “no.”

“Protect us,” she demanded. “Not someone else’s income.”

In a nearly hour-long discussion with the board Tuesday night that veered from passionate pleas to accusations of collusion, Ms. Skabry and her husband, John Skabry Sr., called for the board to keep shrimp farming away from residential areas.

Another neighbor spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting, briefly asking the board to keep the shrimp farm away from their neighborhood.

The topic came up at a recent board meeting after a Laurel couple pitched an aquaculture plant for Southold Town; a code committee meeting later discussed where the code could be changed to allow such a business.

“It could go in anybody’s backyard,” Ms. Skabry said during one lengthy exchange Tuesday night. “And I tell you, if I see it going up in my backyard, it better be going up in yours.”

But Tess Gordon, owner of the Celestial Shrimp, said the company had just presented before the board and said it was too early in the process to say what properties they might consider to build their facility.

“Right now we’re still working on getting everything going with the town,” Ms. Gordon told The Suffolk Times Wednesday. “Nothing’s really happened yet. I’m really just waiting for the next town code meeting.”

Board members also said the process of determining where to allow a shrimp farm had just begun, and that no decision had been reached yet.

“The process might be clumsy, but it works,” said Supervisor Scott Russell at Tuesday night’s meeting.

In response, Ms. Skabry cited decisions made by previous boards to allow tasting rooms at vineyards as proof that the current board was more concerned with businesses than residents.

“You know you’re going to sneak it in somehow,” she accused. “We’re going to be the prototype for the rest of the town.”

Mr. Skabry used his time before the board to show examples of other shrimp farms across the country. None, he said, were allowed in residential zoning.

He accused the town of “spot zoning” the land next to his property to allow the shrimp farm.

“It’s seems like this code change is tailor made for this property,” Mr. Skabry said, adding that the change gives the facility’s owners “just enough room to squeeze it in.” He said he would continue to do research to “keep this out of my backyard.”

Mr. Russell assured the couple that the board was “listening” to their concerns.

“You’re looking at a board that took 14 months to pass a dog leash law,” he said.

But Mr. Russell did say the town can’t simply forbid the shrimp farming; state law requires the town to allow farming enterprises — including shrimp farming — somewhere in town. The board is now in the process of finding the best place, he said.

“The state is looking for [the town] to accommodate these businesses,” Mr. Russell said. The board seemed open to the idea raised by Mr. Skabry to allow the shrimp farming in industrially zoned areas in town, with some members saying they’d consider it.

Councilman Jim Dinizio said he wasn’t pleased that the shrimp facility owners went to the town board before filing any paperwork with the building department, saying the move circumvented “the process.” But that process, he continued, will go on.

“All we’re doing now is asking questions,” Mr. Dinizio said. “I don’t like the way they presented it any more than you do.”

Mr. Russell said there was a positive to take out of the dispute: the decision by the shrimp farmers to speak to the board got the Skabrys involved and raised valid points that the board will have to address.

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