Town eyes rezoning of abandoned oyster factory property

Could rezoning be the key to rebirth for the abandoned oyster factory in East Marion?

With the town’s comprehensive plan as a guide, officials are exploring options for the 18-acre property, which has been an eyesore and source of safety concerns for more than a decade.

At a work session Tuesday, Supervisor Scott Russell distributed a draft zoning analysis compiled by planning department staff that explores different options for rezoning the property.

“Now that the comprehensive plan is done, the town is going to look at possibly changing the zoning on that property, perhaps even a split zone. Something that would be consistent with the land use of the hamlet and keeping in mind the economic component of the chapter,” Mr. Russell said. “It needs a substantial amount of cleanup.”

The deteriorating former oyster factory has been vacant for decades and eyed as the potential site of different ventures over the years, including a resort and wellness center known as Oki-Do and a sustainable fishery.

In 2017, two young men were injured after falling 20 feet through the second floor of the factory building and later sued the town for negligence.

The property has been the subject of foreclosure and sale proceedings for several years, and a public auction of the waterfront property, scheduled to take place in August 2019, never occurred.

According to the draft planning analysis, the property is currently zoned Marine II, which allows a variety of water-dependent uses including marinas, yacht clubs, boatyards, aquaculture and boat sales. It’s surrounded by mostly residential uses.

Potential zoning districts to consider if the property is rezoned include Hamlet Density, which permits a mix of housing types near hamlet centers; Resort Residential, which could allow for a small hotel or motel; as well as traditional Residential-40 and Marine I zones. The board could also consider a split rezoning of the property to create more opportunities.

In their draft report, planning staff noted that the rationale for additional residential zones is that the surrounding neighborhood is now more residential than when the parcel was a functioning commercial oyster factory.

“It’s a property that would generate interest,” Mr. Russell said.

In an interview Tuesday, East Marion Community Association president Ellen Zimmerman said the future of the Oki-Do property is one of their top concerns. As a group, they want to make sure anything that happens there is consistent with the surrounding area.

“We have an interest in maintaining the character of the community,” Ms. Zimmerman said. She said the Oki-Do proposal, which included plans for a 114-room hotel, two restaurants, a spa, pool, gift shop and man-made lake, was too intensive for the property.

“It’s a real eyesore,” Ms. Zimmerman said. “But it is something that could be a real value to the community if it were cleaned up.”