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Southold approves zone change on Plum Island ferry property, a key step in preservation efforts

Following a public hearing where a proposed rezoning of the 9-acre Plum Island Ferry terminal property in Orient met with overwhelming support, the Southold Town Board unanimously adopted the zone change Tuesday. 

Among the civic and environmental organizations that spoke in favor of the rezoning were the Nature Conservancy, the Southold Indian Museum, the Group for the South Fork, Save the Sound, the Orient Association, the East Marion Community Association, and, by letter, the Preserve Plum Island Coalition. North Fork County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) also spoke in favor of the change. 

The property is currently zoned Marine II, a zoning that permits uses such as hotels and restaurants with a special permit, and marinas, beach clubs, yacht clubs and other uses outright. 

The new zoning approved Tuesday is called Marine III, and its purpose is to provide a waterfront location for ferry service to and from Plum Island, which is the only outright use it would permit. Accessory uses would include ticket offices, museums, offices and other uses. 

The federal government, which currently owns Plum Island and provides ferry service to and from the research lab, has announced its intention to close the research facility on Plum Island and eventually sell the land. 

Bob DeLuca, the president of the Group for the East End, said Tuesday the goal is to protect Plum Island’s “incredible natural resources while also maintaining a limited research development zone within the island’s already developed footprint.”

This is why, he said, it’s important to maintain a single point of access to and from the island. 

Marian Lindberg of the Nature Conservancy said that Plum Island doesn’t own the land its ferry docks at in Connecticut and that lease will end when Plum Island closes. 

“Therefore, it is essential that Southold preserves a means of access to the island,” she said. 

“It’s clear that Southold is united with the rest of the region in the goal of preserving Plum Island for conservation, education, research, controlled public access and jobs,” said Louise Harrison of Save the Sound. “Our region’s vision is a Plum Island preserve.”

Councilman Bob Ghosio said the town also received many letters and emails in support of the Marine III zoning.