Life is ever changing. And the Island is changing — in some ways for the better, but in other ways, long-time residents would be quick to say, for the worse.
Ride along Route 114 heading south from North Ferry, and while the initial impression is positive, as you head up past Piccozzi’s gas station and continue south, it’s not long before you encounter views that Supervisor Gary Gerth and his predecessor, Jim Dougherty, have characterized as less than appealing. Mr. Dougherty, when he was in office, said the main thoroughfare of the Island had become “an eyesore.”
There are certainly lovely stretches along Route 114, particularly to the south, but for the those unfamiliar with the Island’s overall beauty, the first impression after they leave Shelter Island Heights could be that this is a town in decline.
The deterioration comes not from residences along the way, but commercial areas with several vacant stores and crumbling structures — some there for years — and other businesses that are operational but could use a face lift, according to town officials.
In early 2016, Mr. Dougherty called for development of a site plan review process for commercial properties. A year later, the idea was still on the table, but then finally adopted despite objections from a number of residents. Until passage, Shelter Island had been the only East End town where the Planning Board lacked site plan review for commercial developments.
The Zoning Board of Appeals had been effective in bringing about some changes — concessions from applicants in exchange for requested variances. But for projects that needed no variances, there was no method to address neighbors’ or elected officials’ concerns.
Twice in recent years, however, town officials have intervened with property owners to bring about improvements.
One property in question that spurred the drafting of legislation is 13 North Ferry Road. Owned by Dan Calabro, it’s leased to Marcello Masonry. The board had discussed this site several times three years ago because of what board members and neighbors said was its unsightly appearance. Complaints led to improvements, with new landscaping that partially screened the property from the street, and the installation of a curb cut and driveway.
Just across the road, John Sieni, after being required to obtain variances for his storage business, made changes to improve the view of it from Route 114 and to buffer noise from those renting units. Renters sometimes arrived early in the morning or late in the evening. With the buffering, neighbors wouldn’t be disturbed.
Still, there are empty buildings along Route 114, some owned by Mr. Calabro, that many would like to see occupied by businesses. There are other buildings that are operational but less than attractive.
Councilman Jim Colligan, who has spoken out a number of times in the past about the look along the northern part of Route 114, said the problem still needs to be addressed.
The effort at beautification of the Center needs to start fresh, town officials say, putting aside past history and working with property owners to help them realize profits on their investments while improving the overall look of the town.
Mr. Gerth said he hopes to be a peacemaker who can work with Mr. Calabro to find buyers for some of the vacant properties in the Center, or renters who would open businesses in currently closed stores.
Mr. Calabro hasn’t responded to questions about what he might be willing to do or whether he’s speaking with the supervisor about future plans.
President of the Chamber of Commerce Art Williams didn’t name any property owners, but said he would like to see every business on the Island thriving and every storefront full.
Of course, Mr. Williams understands that a number of storefronts appear empty off-season, but that’s the nature of a vacation community where the population is relatively small during the late fall and winter seasons, making it difficult for many businesses to operate year-round.
It’s not just empty storefronts that concern Mr. Gerth. He said he’d like to see landscaping that’s attractive in Route 114’s traffic circles and efforts to build up the Center so it can compete with other East End communities that are inviting to shoppers.
Part II will explore the question of what needs to be done to bring the Center up to the standards of the rest of the Island.