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Codger’s column: Comprehensible?

Finally, Codger sat down, swept the crumbs off his desk and read the entire Shelter Island Comprehensive Plan Update, which bills itself as a “preliminary draft for informational purposes only.”

Are you joking, cried Codger? All this energy, time and money spent and you guys still can’t come up with a vision of the town’s future or at least some solid proposals about water usage and community housing that represent the contributions of so many residents involved in crafting this mediocre, boring, redundant, unfocused document.

And how about at least raising some big questions? Should Shelter Island continue what seems to be a rush toward becoming a moated Hampton, a playground for piglets building larger and larger houses which will be slept in for fewer and fewer weeks? Should Suffolk County Water Authority be handed the keys to the aquifer and asked to plan an Island-wide system? While we’re at it, how about the Town Board pushing the priority of a life-saving wastewater facility?

The biggest unanswered question is: What do people want?

Happily, a live version of this “preliminary draft” is coming this Saturday, Sept. 23, at 11 a.m. at the American Legion Community Center, a public review with an opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions. It could be an important day for a town that needs to create a blueprint for a sustainable future.

Like many residents, Codger avoided reading the Comprehensive Plan since 1994, when the first one was issued and mostly ignored because it was too long, too hard and the weather was too hot or too cold. And then two weeks ago, Codger came across a story in the Reporter that shocked him into reading readiness.

A New York State Supreme Court Justice ordered the Town Board to approve a permit allowing the construction of a 12,150 square foot house, which is more than 6,000 square feet beyond the code limit. While the judge cited various other shaky reasons, the one that caught Codger’s attention was that every single one of the previous 38 requests for super-fat houses had been granted.

Every single one! That was no precedent, it was malfeasance. The judge should have called for an investigation of most of the century’s Town Board members. Who have they been working for? Certainly not the town’s best interests.

If Codger’s memory serves, in recent time only one former Board member, Albert Dickson, who happily is running this year, has ever voted against a super-fat house. Codger’s takeaway? The residents of Shelter Island have let the town slip out of their hands. If there is a last chance to get it back — and Codger is not overly optimistic — a real Comprehensive Plan, visionary, practical, enforced would be it.

Obviously, the Plan Codger has just read is not yet it.

But as inadequate as it is, it’s a start, clay to start shaping. There’s an enlightening snapshot of the Island, although it is offered in nuggets of information without analysis. For example, Shelter Island has more poverty than ever before as it also has more wealth. It’s getting older, with fewer families with school-age children, and most houses are owned by people with off-Island primary addresses. Interesting data but how does it translate into action?

The promised action plan is overdue for a place with a fragile aquifer, a desperate need for affordable housing and 1,000 acres ready for development.

Codger can think of 10 things to do, right now, in no particular order of urgency. How about hiring a town manager, or at least a part-time planner? Banning seaplanes and wake surfing near beaches? Ordering the sharing (at least with the town) of mandated well-water tests? Creating trade apprenticeship programs through the schools? Eliminating the use of well-drawn water for irrigation? Prohibiting spot (also called “tailored”) zoning? Starting a public transport system for seniors and disabled residents? Hiring a hydrologist? Cracking down on illegal (post permit) conversions? Outlawing such words as “suburban,” “rural” and “traditional way of life” when used to impede progress? And — immediately and critically —  slowing down the rush to embrace this Plan.

What’s the hurry? Who benefits? Several members of the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee (CPAC) who talked to Codger anonymously reflected a general suspicion of the Town Board’s motives. While that distrust may well be unfounded, it’s understandable given the administration’s routine lack of transparency and the feeling of some CPAC members of being marginalized. Not to mention the vagueness that permeates the Plan and thus offers government a free rein.

Whatever. Just show up on Sept 23, says Codger. Weigh in. Read the plan if you can. But most important, think about what’s important to you and the future of the Island and make it plain to whoever shows up to listen.