At Saturday’s Comprehensive Plan open house and public hearing at the Community Center, attracting about 170 Islanders, no one voiced a need to push ahead and adopt a document by the end of this year.
Attendees seemed split between those who liked what they saw and heard and those who expressed deep concerns about what they said were flaws in the process and with content in the latest plan draft.
Even those who expressed satisfaction with much of what they heard, generally agreed that the current Town Board that loses 60% of its current membership at the end of the year, shouldn’t make any decision on the plan.
Only Councilwomen Amber Brach-Williams and Meg Larsen will be returning in January. Ms. Brach-Williams will either be supervisor or remain as a councilwoman. If elected supervisor, a vacancy will exist that the new Town Board will either fill by appointment or by a special election. If Gordon Gooding is elected supervisor, he would have a full board with the election of two new members and continuing terms of Ms. Brach-Williams and Ms. Larsen.
Following a brief introduction by consultants Noah Levine and Susan Favate, residents were invited to look at boards containing summaries of most plan chapters and add their own comments, pro and con. In addition to posting comments on the boards or attaching post-it notes, they were each given green and red stickers to attach to the boards — green for the statements they agreed with or red for those they disliked.
Issues that appeared to get the most attention — and a number of red dots — were zoning, the environment, natural resources and water quality.
Resident Stephen Jacobs said the process appeared to be from the top down instead of letting ideas from residents rise up and be reflected. “Developers are out there and they’re waiting to pounce,” he warned about loopholes that he said could “destroy the Island.”
Shelter Island Association (SIA) President Kim Noland said none of the suggestions from her group, representing 10 neighborhood associations, were included in the draft. Until a couple of days before the public meting, there was no mention of a noise ordinance; Ms. Noland said the current code provides measurable noise levels that exceed unreasonable levels.
Police have said they respond to complaints, but violators often turn down volumes, only to raise them again after officers leave. People want a stronger noise ordinance, Ms. Noland said, suggesting there should be no use of amplified music.
The SIA tried to provide language pertaining to protection of the Near Shore and Peninsula Overlay District, including banning of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in those areas. The ADU program, funded by a $2 million state grant secured by the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, has 14 applicants with at least 12 appearing likely to receive money. None are located in Near Shore areas, Community Housing Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Hanley said at this month’s CHB meeting.
Natasha Stowe made note of the lack of any information to address the increasing poverty levels on the Island. Data isn’t specific enough to indicate which groups are struggling, making it impossible to develop programs to address poverty issues, she said. She suspects many children on the Island come from homes experiencing high levels of poverty. There may be seniors who are struggling with financial problems. Needs must be defined, and action items developed to address the issue, she said, drawing widespread applause.
Because a Ground and Surface Management Plan from 2020 is an addendum to the draft plan, resident Jan Sudol, vice president of Friends of Coecles Harbor, said it recommends implementation of a unified, Nitrex treatment system for public buildings in the Center, that he and others have argued against. They favor using individual I/A septic systems for the public buildings. Currently, there is a pause for more study underway of the original proposal since the school has pulled out from the area-wide plan and had I/A systems installed this summer.
Bill Derrough, the Friends of Coecles Harbor’s president, said the public session was not well publicized, with others saying the in-person meeting excluded those who might be ill, homebound or off the Island. Similar complaints surfaced about a recent Zoom session that people said was not accessible to those who aren’t computer literate. Meetings should have been held during summer months when more residents were on the Island, Mr. Derrough said.
Lori Beard Raymond said while she appreciates the work that has brought the plan to this stage, there remain many issues that need to be discussed. “We need more time,” she said.
“This is an extraordinary process,” Water Advisory Committee Chairman and Fresh Pond Neighbors Co-Chairman Peter Grand said. He doesn’t expect the “lame duck” Town Board is going to act on the Comprehensive Plan. “We need to come together” to gain control of the process, Mr. Grand said.
Some are confusing a call for a townwide water district with creating a water system with the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) taking over the water supply, Mr. Grand said, adding that’s not the case. SCWA has made it clear it would be too expensive to pipe water to the Island. It manages some systems on the Island, but does not supply water.
While encouraging everyone who hasn’t installed a nitrogen-reducing septic system to do so, Mr. Grand said when it comes to treating wastewater from Center public buildings, residents need to think beyond the nitrogen problems. Current I/A systems would be costly to adapt to emerging contaminants. It would cost less to retrofit a central treatment system, he said.
Mr. Levine, the consultant, said once input was received at the open house meeting, and comments the public makes either online at the town website, or through letters or in-person talks with the Comprehensive Plan Task Force or Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee members are reviewed, there will be a public report on why specific suggestions have been incorporated and others not used. Comments can be provided through Oct. 15. Three members of CPAC have resigned.
The public forum was only the first of many opportunities that will exist for feedback and suggestions, Mr. Levine said.
In addition to the hearings held by the Comprehensive Plan group, the Town Board will be setting up its own public hearings.