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Town Board declines request by civic groups to form comp plan committee

The Southold Town Board declined a request from North Fork civic associations to establish an advisory committee to help implement the town’s comprehensive plan.

Local civic groups wrote in an email to the Town Board dated March 9 that while they applaud town efforts to update town code “as it pertains to land use and development standards,” the process for public input has been disorganized. An advisory committee composed of local experts could help implement the plan, civic association leaders suggested.

“The proposed Public Involvement process while tapping many community resources does not appear to be organized to deliver a coherent set of inputs or recommendations to the Town Board for such a complex undertaking,” the civic associations wrote. The groups otherwise praised an outline for comprehensive plan implementation that was presented by Planning Board director Heather Lanza on Feb. 15. 

“We believe the Town of Southold is blessed with many well-informed, committed residents who are passionate about the future of the community. The Town would be well served to create a Southold Town Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee to help guide and develop recommendations to the Town Board on the Code and zoning map updates that would be needed to implement the Plan,” the groups added. 

The committee could be composed of a seven- to nine-member group chaired by a Town Board liaison to “periodically review and make recommendations” and facilitate community outreach throughout the process. Members could include various stakeholders in the town, such as environmental groups, the Chamber of Commerce, local civic associations, building and real estate representatives, agricultural interests and affordable housing advocates. 

“The big advantage of having a community group working on this process is that they can develop a level of expertise on the subject matter, can work towards positive solutions, represent a variety of community interests and have the continuity of effort that can deliver useful results to the Town Board,” the groups conclude. The email is signed by representatives from six different community associations.

Supervisor Scott Russell said at last week’s work session that creating another group would likely further delay the process and pointed out there’s more accountability when internal public officials establish priorities. “Asking individuals who are volunteers to take that on, it’s just a little too much. It wouldn’t be fair to them, I think,” he said.

“We’ve already put so many groups together that are similar. On top of that, they’re going to create a committee that’s going to take a lot of bullets,” he added. “You’re going to have seven to nine people there trying to bring reconciliation to issues that are just not resolvable and that’s where it comes back to the Town Board and internal town professionals to finally make decisions.”

Town Board member Greg Doroski said the way he read the request for proposal outline that Ms. Lanza put together, the Planning Board was going to take the lead with the aid of a consultant. He acknowledged that the public input section may need to be more robust but ultimately, implementation should fall to the Planning Board. 

“To your point Scott, it’s important that the town, we all step up and use the experts in town to push this forward. This group of people that are outlined here would absolutely be consulted as part of these groups that Planning is reaching out to but I think it’s important to run it through Planning,” Mr. Doroski said. “Part of the problem is we need to put something on the books, and we’ve got to get it done. A lot of public consultation has been done to this point, let’s move that forward to some updates and consult the public as needed and move it forward.”