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Comprehensive Plan advisers prepare survey, public forums

By Feb. 15, the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee expects to release a document on what Shelter Island looks like today. It’s a jumping-off report for a revised plan meant to guide development of the Island in years to come.

A municipality’s Comprehensive Plan dictates policy on multiple fronts. It’s not merely a statement of beliefs and a guide to successful planning, but shows a commitment to serious ideas to improve the municipality, which in turn is used to attract funding from the state, federal, county and other entities.

While Advisory Committee members have already been reaching out to people throughout the town for input, they want to flesh out ideas others have, which can be done though a survey and public meetings.

On Feb.1, the committee reviewed the work of consultants Peter Flinker of Dodson and Flinker of Florence, Mass., and Larissa Brown, Ph.D., of Larissa Brown & Associates in Cambridge, Mass.

The members also looked at reports from subcommittees on issues, including housing, transportation, Island institutions, education, quality of life, land use, history, community services, recreation and governmental structure.

The initial document, to be released this month, takes a look at what exists in these areas now and what is needed. In each case, members want to hear from the public about what works and what doesn’t with an eye to focusing on the positives of living on Shelter Island and what would make the experience better.

They want to hear from full- and part-time residents, as well as visitors. The next step is a survey of residents using a website, such as Survey Monkey, as well as via mail. Copies will also be available at Town Hall and many Island businesses to facilitate as much response as possible.

A lengthy discussion Monday night elicited a surprise for the consultants when members asked that proposed questions about race and ethnicity be struck from the survey questions.

Member John Kerr led the opposition to such questions, despite the effort of the consultants to convince the Advisory Committee that demographics of all kinds are important. Take out questions about race, Mr. Kerr said, insisting it serves no purpose. He speculated that the couple of questions on race and ethnicity could be “off-putting for many people.”

Ms. Brown said by having the information, the committee would know if any major groups of people weren’t making their interests in the Island’s future known. That would enable them to seek out people who could represent those groups.

But the Advisory Committee stood firm and the questions will be eliminated.

What residents can expect to see on the survey are questions asking respondents if they own, rent or are visitors to the Island. For renters, they want to know if there’s an interest in eventually buying property and whether it would represent a second home or a full-time move to the Island, or a transition from a part-time vacation home to an eventual full-time retirement home. The committee hopes that will provide some information on housing needs.

Another question deals with businesses, including those run from homes.

Members want more information about jobs available on the Island. They want to know that, with a tightly-staffed governmental structure, if there’s a need to hire more people, including professional planners, which many larger towns have. On Shelter Island, most town employees wear multiple hats, working at several jobs.

But are there areas where the town would benefit from hiring specialists for some jobs? That’s to be determined with input from people on the Island.

In addition to the survey, two public forums are scheduled — expected to be conducted virtually — one on March 18 and another on April 25.

The Advisory Board is not looking for complaint-based discussions, although they will help to direct specific complaints to people who can assist. They are looking at a broader picture of what exists on Shelter Island and what’s needed and ways in which people want to see the Island develop over many years.

With the time and effort being put into development of that final plan, they want to ensure it won’t simply sit on a shelf and be ignored, but will become a guide to future development.