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Island’s Comprehensive Plan survey launches Monday: Organizers see no loss in deleting ethnic questions

A second Island-wide survey is due to be released on Monday, Feb. 22  from the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee (CPAC) seeking public opinions on the current state of the Island.

To build a plan for the future, committee members say it’s necessary to determine how Islanders view their community now, and determine goals for future development.

The first survey released came from the Shelter Island Police Department Reform and Reinvention Committee (see story), charged with looking at ways in which the police are functioning.

The Comprehensive Plan 2020 survey will be available on the town website on Monday.

Committee members are looking for responses from people representing as many segments of the community as possible so the final document will be widely embraced.

Members have been told by consultant Larissa Brown, of Larissa Brown & Associates of Cambridge, Mass., that the best plans are the product of a community, and not something adapted from other municipalities or created by professionals. Consultants are guides, but need as much local information as possible to ensure they understand what is unique about the place, Ms. Brown said.

She and fellow consultant Peter Flinker of Massachusetts-based Dodson and Flinker, have been reaching out to organizations, officials and residents for information about Shelter Island.

One aspect that may surprise some people about the Comprehensive Plan survey is the absence of any questions about respondents’ ethnicity. That resulted from a discussion among committee members who decided that those questions could dissuade some people from responding.

Committee Chairman Edward Hindin said minority members of the community are important to the planning process, adding, “We are committed to being respectful and inclusive in our planning process. The proposed survey question asking the respondent to identify their race raised a concern at the last CPAC meeting that it might be offensive to some, so we chose to delete it.” But the committee will use other approaches to communicate with as many segments of the community as possible during the planning process, he added.

Councilman Mike Bebon agreed. “We will still be hearing from everyone who chooses to fill out a survey on what is important to them,” Mr. Bebon said. That the survey will be offered in both English and Spanish “may provide us some additional interesting correlations,” he said.

“The incremental information we might have gained through including that question was not worth the risk of offending anyone or making someone feel they are not respected and valued as an important member of our community,” Mr. Bebon said.

Results of the 2020 U.S. Census expected within a few months will provide racial demographics, Mr. Bebon added. That data is likely to be “much more statistically accurate than what including that question in our survey might have produced,” he said.

“We will be able to access the views of various groups on the issues, as well as to learn about any issues that are unique to the groups,” the councilman said.

The consultants and members of the committee have been exploring the history of the Island; governmental functions; zoning; planning; water use and septic systems; land preservation and other land uses; the environment; housing; recreation; needs of specific segments of the community; and a wealth of other topics.

In addition to the survey, the committee will be holding forums, likely to be done via Zoom as all town meetings have been because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and is reaching out individually to minorities to ensure their voices are heard.