Town continues to discuss future of abandoned oyster factory property

​​The Southold Town Board continued deliberations over rezoning an abandoned oyster factory in East Marion, popularly known as the “Oki-Do” property, at a work session Tuesday. The aim remains to reduce the intensity of potential development on the parcel, despite a developer’s pitch for condominiums.

Mark Terry, assistant town planning director, said at the beginning of the conversation that the goal was to bring the Town Board — with two new members — up to speed on a zoning analysis of the property from August and “see if there were any other potential avenues we could explore.” No decisions were made during the meeting, although there was a consensus among board members to reduce intensity and some suggested partially zoning the land to allow for a working waterfront. 

“The whole purpose of looking at it was to say, is this use appropriate for this location in the context of a larger area? And the report outlined options and some of those options, I think, ultimately, we decided on an option that would have allowed for a split zone, an R-80 on a portion and about 6.5 acres of RR,” Supervisor Scott Russell said.

R-80 zoning would prioritize single-family homes and RR, or Resort Residential, would still allow for some commercial development, including a small hotel. The parcel is currently zoned as Marine II, which allows for “a wide range of water-dependent and water-related uses,” including commercial marinas, boatyards, restaurants, hotels and ferries. Mr. Russell said in early November that the zoning, left as is, could allow for “over 120 rooms, restaurants, an amphitheater and a marina on the entire property.”

One of the reasons the plan was initially set aside, he said, was because someone pitched “ideas” about the property to the board. He did not elaborate, but a developer pitched an 80-unit condominium and affordable housing on the parcel to the Town Board in late November. No application has been filed with the town since.

“Ultimately, we never got details on those ideas. And also, frankly, those ideas would require changes to zoning and absolute modification of the code as it currently exists, which is too heavy a lift,” Mr. Russell said. 

Some Town Board members expressed interest in the possibility of Marine I zoning, an option that had been previously ruled out in a Planning Board analysis because the parcel is not located in a creek or natural cove. 

In the analysis, compiled in August, the Planning Board defined MI zoning as a district meant “to provide a waterfront location for a limited range of water-dependent and water-related uses, which are those uses which require or benefit from direct access to or location in marine or tidal waters but which are located within the town’s tidal creeks or natural coves.”

Town Board member Sarah Nappa suggested split zoning the parcel. “I would support R-80 or R-40, probably R-80, as a split zone with the MI in that area,” she said, suggesting partially zoning the parcel to allow for a working waterfront and “not necessarily doing another sort of resort residential, where there’s more hotels.” 

“Obviously, the goal is to lower the intensity there. I just think the question is balancing the intensity of a split zone … with potentially the ability to have some sort of working waterfront at a lower intensity there that is kind of strictly limited to small boat marina or something like that,” Town Board member Greg Doroski said. “I guess it comes to us to figure out … what do we want to promote here? What do we want to prevent here? Is the working waterfront something we want to promote in a context-specific setting?”

Town Board member Brian Mealy said he likes MI because “that’s our maritime history and I want it to be more than just the Maritime Festival in that area.” He added that a working waterfront would promote skilled labor.

“We’re talking about our kids leaving in droves, if we can put that in place where it’s a combination of something that’s not too overly done but it harkens back to our maritime history and allows our young people to stay here, I’m for that,” he said. 

Mr. Russell responded that the Planning Board did not view MI as a viable zone for the parcel in the original analysis and suggested asking the board to take a closer look at the zone. 

Mr. Terry emphasized that the road leading to the property was not designed to handle a lot of commercial traffic. “Intensity is a very, very important point here. And this zoning is very important,” he said.

Mr. Russell said he thinks people might confuse Resort Residential zoning with applications pending before the town, with substantially intensive uses. “People need to understand that those properties are completely different zones. The RR zone is a fairly restrictive zone, which I believe is why the Planning Board tended to focus on it,” he said. 

“My only issue with the MI is it really does open up a lot,” he added. “Yes, you’re trying to maintain a working waterfront. But you have to remember again, it’s in the context of everything around it.”

A working waterfront would be “great” and he’d “encourage the Planning Board to review it certainly” but he thinks the impact on the surrounding community “has to be a substantial part of the equation.”

Mr. Doroski clarified that he does not think the whole parcel should be classified MI and acknowledged that RR does lower the intensity. 

“I just wonder if there is another way to lower [intensity] and still maintain that working waterfront,” he said.

Mr. Terry said the Planning Board is trying to be aware of the surrounding community character and apply transition zones. “We could look at MI I guess,” he said, but pointed out that RR can also preserve aquaculture. 

The size of the MI zoning would impact the intensity of use, he said. 

“You got to remember, once that zoning’s put there, you can’t shape the outcome, you can only shape a lot of the different outcomes,” Mr. Russell said. 

Mr. Terry noted that at one point East Marion stakeholders had suggested preserving the parcel as a park. It would be a “neat way to preserve community character” and the “historical significance” of the oyster factory, he said.

Ms. Nappa told The Suffolk Times after the discussion that the community has been outspoken about not wanting a hotel on the property, “so that is a reason for looking at all the options in that location.”

“In that location I think it’s important to find a balance between the desires of the community and a function for that site so it doesn’t continue to sit dilapidated,” she said.

The Planning Board will come back to the Town Board with further analysis of the parcel before the town makes a decision, according to Ms. Nappa. 

“There’s still some more in-depth process that the Planning Board needs to do after we make our decision before we can go to public hearing. We’ll probably set the public hearing but that analysis has to be completed before we finish the public hearing just to make sure that we’re following the correct process for the zone change,” she said.