Column: What happened to Route 114?


I am not a ranter by nature.

I don’t go blathering about things that seem to have no solution. But sometimes I feel the need to speak up and I thought, with the possibility of some new blood at Town Hall, now would be as good a time as any.

Like most islanders, I look forward to Election Day, partially for the opportunity to do my civic duty, but mostly for the removal of political signage, a blight on any roadscape, to be sure. The problem for Shelter Island, though, is that once the signs come down, Route 114 will still be unsightly.

It has been for a long while, and save for the recent long overdue face-lifting of Justice Hall, it looks like it will remain so.

If I were driving onto Shelter Island for the first time, from either Greenport or North Haven, I might think I’d been transported to an economically depressed area of upstate New York.

Take a drive with me from North Ferry.

Looking good in the Heights, as we pass stunning examples of Victorian architecture, a recently-renovated hotel, a busy pharmacy, coffee shop and trim real estate offices. Down the hill and over the bridge are more busy shops and a storefront boasting a new sidewalk and the promise of an occupant.

Up the hill past the gas station are smart-looking homes lining both sides of the road. But after the “S” turn, things begin to go south, both literally and figuratively. An idle business with a faded “For Rent” sign is seen just before noticing the local supermarket, badly in need of a paint job with a canvas sign covering what seems to be the original wooden one.

Just after a clutch of little shops, a restaurant and a craft brewery, you see another vacant business with a “Help Wanted” or “For Rent” sign on it, and then, before you know it, right after the post office, another one. That’s three in just over half a mile!

Around the circle past the town offices, the library, Legion Hall, church and school, things perk up again, until we come to what has been described by our current supervisor as an “industrial park”. To be fair, the current owners of those businesses, using landscaping and natural barriers, have done their level best to put a good public face on their establishments, but then again, industrial parks don’t usually find themselves on main thoroughfares.

Around the corner, another renovation is taking place, quickly followed by a quaint convenience store and a well-kept restaurant. The ride continues past neat houses with manicured lawns, finally arriving at a beautiful waterfront vista at the South Ferry.

I remember my father-in-law, a packrat legend, being ordered by the town to clean up his yard because neighbors had declared it — perhaps accurately — as an unsightly public safety hazard.

Could perhaps one of the items on the new town government agenda be to address the issue of neglected and derelict properties?

The town and Chamber of Commerce seem to lack the teeth to deal with the problem, but they should have some ability to leverage property owners to make the main route across our beautiful Island look attractive, and to encourage economic growth instead of seeing it continually go in the other direction.

I know we take pride in being the “un-Hampton,” but seriously, compare the commerce on either fork and tell me you’re not just a wee bit embarrassed.