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This week in Shelter Island history

Old, open book with a damaged cover.50 YEARS AGO IN HISTORY

Bill Graham opened Fillmore East in New York City, with it rapidly becoming known as the Church of Rock & Roll where such stars as John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers performed.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson narrowly defeated Senator Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary, signaling the unrest in the country over the Vietnam War and what would turn out to be an indication to President Johnson that it was time to consider withdrawing from the political scuffle that would ensue.

Actress Juanita Hall, best known for her role on the Broadway stage as Bloody Mary in the Rodgers and Hammerstein production of “South Pacific, “died in East Islip at age 66 from complications of diabetes.

Life magazine featured “The Negro and the Cities” on its cover in what would turn out to be just a month before  Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and three months before Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles on the night he won the California Democratic Primary.

And on Shelter Island . . .


Island saved from “new town” concept

Islanders would maintain that the isolation of living here is a boon to the lifestyle they want. But 50 years ago, it was what kept Shelter Island from being swept up in a Johnson administration concept known as “new town” that threatened to populate the East End by using open land to build new communities.

What exempted the Island from having to absorb any such development was that the federal government considered it isolated and without sufficient transportation alternatives. When the concept was introduced by President Lyndon Johnson, Riverhead Supervisor Robert Vovojda said, “I wish they’d leave us the hell alone. We want to live like human beings and have a little peace and tranquility.”

POSTSCRIPT: In no small measure, thanks to Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), who introduced the legislation that created the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund, money is available to towns on the East End to purchase land that’s kept from development.


ZBA to gauge Reel Point Impact

It was 30 years ago that the town was faced with an application to build  a house in a coastal barrier district on Tuthill Drive adjacent to Reel Point. A New York State Department of Environmental Conservation permit for the project had expired and the DEC said it would not be renewed without a new application that would require a review of the proposal.

For the DEC, the issue was whether environmental  conditions had changed. The town’s Conservation Advisory Council and the Group for the South Fork (now the Group for the East End) had opposed the planned construction. Members of both argued the area was subject to severe storm action. The property owner acknowledged he would be unable to get a bank mortgage or flood insurance, but didn’t consider that an impediment to building on the site.

The principal’s attorney asked that the application with an environmental assessment form be sent to the Zoning Board of Appeals for its take on the situation. It would then fall to the ZBA to determine whether a full environmental study was necessary.

POSTSCRIPT: Reel Point has been severely eroded through the years with the loss of property in the area. It now falls to the town and Peconic Land Trust to determine what to do to curtail the erosion since past dredging in the area has failed to provide a significant improvement. The Town Board is studying the issue with guidance from Town Engineer John Cronin, Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. and Peconic Land Trust personnel to implement parts of a plan recommended in the past year by consultants.


Youths get taste of what it’s like to be hungry

Youths from Shelter Island and neighboring East End towns gathered at St. Gabriel’s Youth House 20 years ago to participate in a 30-hour Worldwide Hunger Awareness Program. The aim, according to Sister Maureen Kervick, director of the ecumenical Youth House, was to enable the teens to understand what it is like for those unable to afford regular meals.

They fasted while experiencing what it would be like to live in sparse conditions without amenities such as clean water and electricity. Tom Hashagen and Lisa Shaw challenged them in a VisionQuest program designed to create a greater understanding of the issues related to hunger.

POSTSCRIPT: St. Gabriel’s no longer exists on the Island, but members of the National Honor Society and friends each year participate in a November cardboard campout on school grounds to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. The students also participate at a Habitat building site each year. Their adviser, Janine Mahoney, organizes the event.


Residents in uproar over high-end retreat

It was 10 years ago that the founder of the Safe Harbor Retreat LLC proposed converting the Ram’s Head Inn into a high end private recovery center. The plan called for admitting patients after they were professionally detoxed off-Island. The first year, there would be a total of 59 clients for a month-long program and the second year, the program would accommodate 162 clients, according to Joe McKinsey of Amagansett. The clients would be constantly supervised.

The plan didn’t sit well with Ram Island Association members. Its president, Sue Siegelbaum, initiated an email campaign aimed at stopping the possibility of the Ram’s Head turning into a recovery center, including hiring an attorney to represent their interests.

The opposition grew despite owner James Eklund asking that residents think about the advantages of such a facility on the Island, saying the program could be “lifesaving.”  He planned to lease the Ram’s Head to Safe Harbor.

Because the inn was already a nonconforming use in a residential area, it would require a Zoning Board of Appeals variance if it was to become a reality.

POSTSCRIPT: The proposal failed and today, Mr. Eklund and his wife Linda continue to operate the Inn, but it is up for sale.