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Comprehensive Plan Board replaces consultant who bowed out: Two experts will advise Island board

The Comprehensive Plan task force experienced its first major hiccup with word that one of the two consultants who started on the effort to develop a road map for Shelter Island’s future had to abandon the project because of health-related issues.

Replacing Lisa Liquori of East Hampton-based Fine Arts and Sciences could have been challenging for the other consultant, Peter Flinker of Dodson and Flinker of Florence, Mass. But Larissa Brown, Ph.D., of Larissa Brown & Associates in Cambridge, Mass., stepped into the role Jan. 4. Ms. Brown and Mr. Flinker have worked together before; she has more than 25 years of planning experience.

That evening, she and Mr. Flinker outlined areas of concentration, including population changes, land use and zoning, natural resources and the environment, economic development, housing, transportation, infrastructure and utilities, public health and governance, among others.

Each of the 12 members of the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee will be serving on subcommittees to explore the subjects in depth.

Ms. Brown told the Advisory Board members that the most effective comprehensive plans are those that are perceived by the public as emanating from local individuals, not outside consultants. Consultants can provide structure for the undertaking, but specific ideas need to reflect the interests of residents.

That starts with the Advisory Committee members, but extends to the public at large through a local survey to be conducted and public meetings to gather more input.

Islanders will have an opportunity later this month or early February to offer comments identifying areas that need attention or solutions to reaching specific goals. An initial public meeting is currently lined up for late February.

All monthly sessions of the Advisory Committee are open to the public via Zoom.

COVID-19 will also be driving some of the process as a group focused on the future. Some COVID-related occurrences will still be factors, including:

• Will the housing market that has seen a relocation of people who were once only part-timers be sustained?

• If so, does the increase in student population bode well for the Shelter Island School District?

• Will an increase in year-round population seen during the pandemic be sustained, and how might that affect volunteer services, including the Fire Department and EMS workers?

Planners will be looking at issues of sea level rises, particularly in terms of what land might be buildable for housing and other needs; preparation by the ferry services to deal with sea level rises that Police Chief Jim Read has said are critical to his oversight of Emergency Services during storms or other crises.

Also issues of water availability and handling of sewage need to be examined, Mr. Flinker said.

He cautioned that the coastline around the Island could sustain a major impact from both storms and wave actions in future years. While about 20 existing houses experience regular flooding during storms, the threat to many more houses could increase without mitigation.

Ms. Brown cautioned against making wrong comparisons from other Island communities. Islanders can generally reach the North or South forks within 10 minutes, but that’s not the case in communities such as Block Island, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, she said.

Shelter Island might share certain factors with those other island communities, but has “unique characteristics” that need to be factored into decisions made about the town’s future.

The two consultants had positive words for:

• The spirit of volunteerism on the Island.

• Effectiveness of a well trained Police Department.

• A school system in which the community is well invested, spending more per pupil than most communities allot.

• A library that is effective with a wide array of programs and engages with other entities to widen its outreach.

At the same time, the consultants pointed out that a limited town staff means there is no town planner to guide the process of development, as happens in other communities.

Not having a budget for capital planning and asset management is a weak point, although those are areas currently being addressed by the Capital Planning/Grants Committee and Town Board.