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Shelter Island Reporter Letter to the Editor: Dec. 2, 2022

If not now, when?

To the Editor:

Shelter Island has a long history of well-loved large residences dating back to Sylvester Manor, Sunset Hill, the Queen Ann home of Gov. Hugh Carey, and the mid-century modern Snyder House by American architect Bertrand Goldberg, just to note a few.

Until recently these homes and others, with their inhabitants, existed as part of a wonderful eclectic mixture with year-round working-class Islanders and wealthy summer residents, living together in a symbiotic relationship and community.

Today, we no longer hold contemporary mansions in high regard. What fundamentally has changed? Is it that the Island has been proclaimed a more desirable alternative to the Hamptons, and the mansions of today are the norm rather than the exception? Or that they are far larger than in the past, and the properties that they are built on are smaller? Or is it something fundamentally more difficult to contemplate?

At this time of rapid, uncontrolled growth, the Island has lost the eclectic mixture of year-round and summer residents, and even the very notion of community is questioned.

The Island is well on its way to becoming a seasonal high-end resort town, with the cost of the average home well beyond the reach of the middle class. The result is that young Islanders are exiting in mass, and the need for an Island school is in question.

Change is inevitable. However, growth and the nature of change can be guided beneficially by effective and timely planning and zoning, if we care more about the nature of this place than development and tax revenue. Most of us who live on the Island, love the Island far more for what it was than for what it has become.

Is now the time to embrace planning, engage a town planner, create a fully functional Planning Board and end special permits, essentially doing what all other East End communities have been doing for years? 

Adopting this type of land use oversight will serve to guide future development and protect the value of our residential properties, as well as the Island’s principal tax base from haphazard land use.

If not now, when, and what will the Island’s future be if we fail to act before it is too late?