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Southold planning staff unveils final draft of comprehensive plan

The Southold Planning Board presented and accepted feedback Monday night on the final draft of its comprehensive plan, a 13-chapter document that has been 10 years in the making. 

Just under 100 people attended the initial presentation, set to be followed by a number of informational sessions, and more than a third of the audience took to the podium with questions, comments and criticisms in what Planning Board vice-chairman James Rich III said was a largely productive discourse.

Some asked what mechanisms can be used to ensure the Town Board acts in accordance with the plan’s vision statement.

“Ultimately, it’s you, the people,” said board member Martin Sidor. “ [The Town Board will] ask for recommendations, but it’s you, the people that bring things up before town boards.”

Mr. Rich called it a “goal-oriented plan.”

“We have 90 people here,” he said. “There’s 25,000 in the town, so I think the Town Board is going to have to feel this out, see what they think needs to be adjusted.”

He said the final draft is not the end, but rather a beginning.

“It’s a living document,” town planning director Heather Lanza said. “We wanted to keep it flexible and adaptable.”

Of those who spoke out on the plan’s specifics, recurring themes included zoning — the laws of which will not change, according to Ms. Lanza and assistant town planning director Mark Terry — traffic issues, affordable housing and environmental concerns.

On zoning, local attorney Pat Moore said: “At present time, any variance that is required on any property, but in particular, nonconforming lots, there is a six-month wait to be able to get onto a calendar of the Zoning Board of Appeals. That is typically, in land use terms, an indication that there is a problem with our zoning ordinance.”

She asked that the backlog be addressed.

Community Action Southold Town board president Marc Sokol recommended that the town “develop a proactive plan to move the underserved population to self sufficiency.”

Bob Hanlon, a Democratic Party candidate for Southold Town Board, discussed an array of issues, including water quality.

“Our water is increasingly at risk of pollution from nitrates, bacteria and other contaminants,” he said. “The plan clearly states that we must ‘Support the work of the Town of Southold Water Quality Protection and Conservation Committee.’ But that is not what this town is currently doing. In fact, the town recently canceled all future meetings of its Water Conservation Committee, claiming that its goals had been met.”

Bob DeLuca of Group for the East End speaks at Monday’s hearing. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

“The more that you say these things are what the public wants, the Town Board feels rightly protected that it’s moving in the direction that people want it to go,” said Bob DeLuca, president of Group for the East End.

Mr. DeLuca’s daughter, Marina DeLuca, 21, of East Marion said she was speaking on behalf of the younger generation who don’t typically attend meetings. She said she supported the plan.

“We find the changes that we are seeing in our community happening quickly … And the idea that the town is working to take action to stop some of these things from happening is crucial for us as the next coming generation.”

Ms. DeLuca mentioned how the North Fork calm and quiet she once knew and loved is now constantly interrupted by leaf blowers and weed wackers. She talked about the number of trees she’s seen replaced by buildings and how few stars she and her friends see in the sky due to the lack of enforcement of the town code’s dark sky lighting regulations.

“If you live here, you can feel it coming,” Mr. DeLuca said. “You can feel that we and Shelter Island are kind of what’s left of the five towns of the East End that were here 15-20 years ago. And it’s just a matter of time before this town gets slammed with development that it can’t manage and that’s not for lack of anybody’s will or anybody’s effort, it’s just going to happen. And the main protection that you have is a strong comprehensive plan that reflects the goal that you worked for 10 years to develop and so, for that reason alone, I just urge you forward.”

Southold Town Planner Mark Terry at Monday’s hearing. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

The Planning Board was first designated by the Town Board to draft the plan in 2009, with the intention of clarifying zoning, regulations and policies. Using public input from 64 different meetings, previous and existing plans and studies, expertise from in-house staffs, committees and boards and outside consulting where necessary, the board compiled the 281-page document and 308-page appendices.

For a schedule of the upcoming informational meetings, visit southoldtownny.gov/1540/Information-Meetings.

Caption: Residents review maps from Southold Town’s Comprehensive Plan. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

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