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Town Board makes Comprehensive Plan, revitalization of the Center the focus

The Town Board is moving quickly on one of its most urgent priorities — creating a “comprehensive plan” for the town and implementing it. 

Councilman Mike Bebon and Planning Board member Edward Hindin have drafted a “plan for the plan,” as they put it, and are in the process of forming a team to work on it.

A municipality’s comprehensive plan dictates policy on several fronts, including development, land use, transportation and housing. In 1994, a Comprehensive Plan was adopted by a Town Board resolution. A seven-month effort of discussion and research in 2008 produced an update to the plan, but the board rejected it.

Now, Mr. Hindin, a former licensed professional planner, who has worked in two municipalities creating comprehensive plans, has offered his services to help put a plan together. The idea is to update the 1994 plan, and make it work.

One idea is to designate a single individual as a project director, who will, according to the Bebon/Hindin draft, have “overall responsibility for delivering the Plan on time …”

A task force would then be formed and include people “with relevant expertise.” 

Realizing the need for public support, the draft calls for “a robust communication and community engagement process that ensures stakeholder groups are represented …”

A vision of what the community wants for the future is spelled out, with options such as preserving the status quo of the town, or seeking “a vibrant, thriving community with a strong and diverse economy, moderate-high income job opportunities, a growing age-balanced population, preserved cultural and natural resources, and a modern, resilient infrastructure.”

A final option is a combination of the first two visions for the Island’s future. 

Mr. Bebon and Mr. Hindin will work, they said, to put a group together to begin work. 

In other business: Similar to a vision for the Island’s future are ideas that could be put into play using grants from Suffolk County for renovation of part of the town’s infrastructure. The county’s Department of Economic Development provides funds for “downtown revitalization.” Municipalities have to come up with a plan by May 22 to present to the county for vetting and the release of funds.

Councilman Jim Colligan discussed ideas with his colleagues to incorporate renovations from Wilson Circle to the Center Firehouse, which would include installing a clock in the circle centered around a small garden; new lighting in the area; putting in a public bathroom; and making an effort to get businesses into the ground floors of the empty shops along Route 114 and then creating rental apartments on the second floors. 

Councilman Albert Dickson said that Bridge Street should also be considered in any plans presented to the county for funds.

A working group is expected to be formed that would include, among others, a Town Board member, representatives from the Lions Club, the Chamber of Commerce, and a local architect.

During a review of wetland applications, Mr. Dickson made an eloquent plea to his colleagues to carefully consider requests that will affect the future of the Island. Lawrence Scott Greenberg is seeking a wetlands permit to remove a single family dwelling, well and septic system from his property at 159 North Ram Island Drive. Mr. Greenberg wants to construct a new house with an addition and a bathroom in a detached garage to support a swimming pool.

Mr. Dickson started by saying he had “concerns and reservations” about the application which, he said, could do damage to the wetland ecosystem.

“The rate of loss and deterioration of our wetlands is accelerating,” Mr. Dickson said. “The pressure on the wetlands will greatly intensify in coming years due to climate change. The widespread expansion of development on Shelter Island has brought the issue of wetland loss to the forefront of our zoning and land planning. I think it’s time to pay attention to our development. We know how valuable our wetlands are to plant life, animal life and a multitude of other issues, including storm surges and water quality protection.” 

Mr. Dickson then noted that the application in question, when it went before the Conservation Advisory Council, was unanimously rejected.

The board will vote on the application, along with several others, at the next regular Town Board meeting.