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First public hearing of Shelter Island’s Comprehensive Plan is set for Sept. 23: Draft revision is online

With the Comprehensive Plan draft completed by consultants from BFJ Planning now available on the town website, the Comp Plan Task Force (CPTF) and Comp Plan Advisory Committee (CPAC) are preparing for a Sept. 23 open house at the Community Center. One chapter remains to be released, providing an overview of action items, but the information it contains is also in other chapters.

Councilwoman Meg Larsen said at Tuesday’s Town Board work session that the chapter on implementing action items should be available this week.

The agenda for the open house calls for a brief presentation, an opportunity for more information on chapters of interest, and then a public hearing. But the hearing is not with the entire Town Board, but the Task Force members — Ms. Larsen, Councilwoman BJ Ianfolla and Planning Board representative to the Task Force Julia Weisenberg.

This public hearing is to get feedback that can be incorporated before the Task Force and Comp Plan Advisory Board can discuss changes. If more hearings are needed, they will be scheduled.

Once the draft is adjusted, the Task Force will send the plan back to the consultants to incorporate anything new that results from public comments. The document then will return to the Task Force for a vote on a resolution to send the updated plan to the Town Board.

At that point, the Town Board will review the document and discuss potential changes and then schedule their own public hearing on the document. If more than one public hearing is needed, it will be scheduled.

Rough drafts of most chapters have been on the website for the past three years, but this is the first time chapters that have been reworked by the consultants have been available in their entirety. This is particularly true of the chapter titled “Environment, Land Use and Zoning.” Councilman Jim Colligan said of the latest document, “It’s not controversial in nature.”

The Comp Plan does not enact legislation. It is meant to be a guide to legislation a Town Board could look to achieve specific needs. And any legislation discussed in the future would be subject to a public hearing.

Zoning has controlled development on the Island, affecting types of land uses that are permitted in certain areas and the density, scale and design of structures, according to the chapter. Since the town established a zoning code in 1957, it has resulted in maintaining a rural character “built around agriculture, fishing and natural resources,” according to the plan. At the same time, the commercial areas have been limited, resulting in primarily small businesses.

Land preservation has been a double-edged sword, according to the plan, maintaining wetlands, woodlands and natural resources, but contributing to land values that may limit the impact of available conservation funding. “Protecting open space and limiting growth can further drive up prices and restrict access to the Island to all but the wealthy,” the plan warned. It recommends continuing preservation efforts, but advises those sites should have “special importance because of their natural resource value.”

The estimate is that there is between 1,000 and 1,100 acres of land left to develop on the Island, presenting the opportunity for growth and predicting that development will accelerate over the next decade “as oversized developed parcels are subdivided, and smaller homes are replaced by larger ones. The lack of public water supply and wastewater systems requires continued large-lot development, lessening more compact growth patterns.”

The draft plan describes the Island as “a unique community [with a] tranquil and isolated environment” that has historically attracted residents with “a general spirit of individualism. … It is important that zoning and other regulations are appropriately designed to protect the most valued qualities of the Island, such as its historic and rural characteristics, the environment and natural resources, and other aspects that affect quality of life.”

In an introductory chapter, the latest draft sets forward some guiding principles:

• Exercising responsible stewardship for natural and cultural resources that give the Island its distinctive character and significance, including protecting the fragile aquifer.

• Increasing the resiliency of the Island to climate change and sea level rise by implementing appropriate adaptation measures.

• Maintaining a vibrant year-round Island community that meets residents’ economic and social needs; recognizing growth and economic opportunities are necessary to sustain a year-round island community without sacrificing natural and cultural resources; providing opportunities for year-round employment, attainable housing opportunities, quality community services and a strong public school system, as well as protecting ecologically sensitive areas through low density housing.

• Motivating and enabling the upcoming generations to be part of the Island’s future through inclusion in town governance, education, economic development, and ability to be involved in volunteer work performed by boards and committees.

“Shelter island’s history and sense of community is strengthened by providing a future on the Island to the children who have grown up, summered or who have family roots here,” according to the draft.

The full draft is at shelterislandtown.us.