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Hearing set on rezoning of Plum Island ferry property: Could open door to development

What public access to Plum Island will entail for East End residents and others is up for debate.

The Southold Town Board will hold a public hearing next month on a proposal to rezone the 9-acre Plum Island ferry terminal property in Orient.

The site is currently included in Southold’s Marine II zoning district, which includes a multitude of uses, including marinas and yacht clubs.

Southold officials are considering enacting a new zoning district, Marine III, on the property. The Marine III zoning district was conceptualized in 2019 with the goal of preempting the closure of the research facility and sale of the 840-acre Plum Island.

The Southold Town Board voted unanimously to establish the new zoning district in December.

“That site is the linchpin to any future use of Plum Island,” Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said Tuesday.

A December public hearing on creating the new district drew wide support from local advocates and Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

“The MII zone could be fairly significantly developed if it were allowed to go into private hands,” said Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca. “The board is taking the affirmative action, I think, which is necessary here, to ensure that parcel continues on at a purpose that it currently has, which is to get people to and from that island, to get materials to and from that island … It assures that while the larger island is sort of being debated, that this piece of property doesn’t slip through the cracks.”

The new Marine III zoning district only permits ferry terminals to be used for service to and from Plum Island. Accessory uses could include ticket offices, waiting areas, a snack bar, offices, storage sheds and museums.

One letter of opposition was received from the U.S. General Services Administration, which is overseeing the sale of Plum Island, during December’s hearing.

Late last Month, legislation to halt the GSA from marketing and selling the island was adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously and is now included in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2021.

The Plum Island research facility is currently slated to close, with its operations moving to a facility in Kansas. After the move was announced in 2005, a law was enacted in 2008 that called for the sale of Plum Island to the highest bidder — a law that Rep. Zeldin called “the wrong path forward.”

“The better way is to provide for public access, permanent preservation of Plum Island, and continued use of the state of the art research infrastructure,” Mr. Zeldin said during remarks made on the floor in July.

The public hearing is set for Sept. 8 at 4:30 p.m.