The Southold Town Board approved a zone change for the site of a former oyster factory at the end of Shipyard Lane in East Marion.
Town Board members Sarah Nappa and Jill Doherty voted against the change, citing concerns about a portion of the 18.3-acre parcel that would be zoned resort residential and potentially allow a restaurant or small hotel.
“I feel we can do better,” Ms. Doherty said. “I feel that we should work on this right away, make it a priority.”
The town has been reviewing a zone change for the parcel since at least 2019, Town Supervisor Scott Russell said. He voted in favor of the zone change, along with board members Greg Doroski, Brian Mealy and Louisa Evans.
“I wish the code offered a broader menu of [zoning] options, but it doesn’t,” he said before he voted. Rezoning the property would have happened sooner, if not for the pandemic.
“The Planning Board did a study that produced a result that basically is a mirror image of the zoning that’s already there, residential zoning to the north, RR [rural residential] zoning to the south, which is similar to what you would see right next door,” he added. “Also, the idea of a restaurant and a hotel would be so substantially scaled back that I do not believe it would have an impact on the community like any other zoning would. I think Marine I, Marine II, all of our marine uses in zoning would have much more public impact than what we’re proposing.”
Two East Marion residents urged the Town Board to approve the zone change before the vote. “We can’t wait any longer,” said civic leader Anne Murray.
The Shipyard Lane parcel had previously been zoned Marine II, which would have allowed “a wide range of water dependent and water-related uses” such as commercial marinas, boatyards, restaurants, hotels and ferries.
After Tuesday’s vote, the property is now split-zoned as a mix of RR and R-80, or residential two-acre zoning that prioritizes single family units. RR still allows for some commercial development but development potential is much less intensive than under MII.
East Marion residents mostly expressed support for the zone change at a June public hearing, although some expressed reservations about RR zoning. At least two residents asked the town to consider the value of maintaining a working waterfront on the property.
An architect representing the owner of the property presented a plan for the parcel at a work session last month, outlining 80 units split among several condominium buildings; a private marina; play area; tennis courts; pools; green space and a beach area; and 24 units of workforce housing. Mr. Russell said at the time that there’s no existing code that would fit the project.
Mr. Doroski said at a work session earlier Tuesday that no application for development has been filed for the site. He expressed “frustration with the menu of [zoning] options” available for the parcel.
“I think more than anything it speaks to the need for us to get the zoning code update in place,” he said. “I hope the menu of options that are offered in the update would give us something better, because it feels like, to me, that RR really doesn’t map to my priorities.”
Ms. Evans pointed out that the board could change the zone now and return to the parcel later.
Mr. Russell said he agrees they need more zoning options and “we might decide to rezone the entire area based on character,” but the town isn’t there yet.
“Here’s my concern with RR, and I feel like we’re at a different place than we were in 2019. The big thing for me is the hotel-restaurant. That is just a big concern,” Ms. Nappa said. She acknowledged that the zone change would limit size, but pointed out the town is facing “a lot of pressure with hotels and restaurants right now.”
“We already have a lot that are coming,” she said. “So to zone that parcel to then add another restaurant-hotel, people are going to be driving up and down that road a lot more often than they would if it was a marina similar to Strong’s.”
Mr. Russell said that he understands her reluctance, but the zoning would not allow a development at the scale of other projects in town, like the Enclaves hotel and restaurant. To rezone a portion of the parcel as Marine I to allow a working waterfront would still allow for intensive use, he said.
“People say they want working waterfront until the working waterfront shows up then all of a sudden they’re not so happy with it,” he said.
“To me, that speaks to updated zoning and I guess at some point we’re going to need to decide when we want to pump the breaks on any of these sorts of things until we get this updated menu of options,” Mr. Doroski responded. He added that he doesn’t see another option besides RR at the moment.