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Siller, Gooding tangle over Shelter Island’s Community Preservation Fund plan: Board keeps hearing open

It was a familiar scuffle between former supervisor Gerry Siller and Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board Chairman Gordon Gooding and others a the Dec. 28 special Town Board meeting – Mr. Siller’s last session after his four years in office.

Despite Mr. Siller’s effort to close a public hearing on revisions to a Community Preservation Fund Plan draft after hearing from Mr. Gooding and CPF Board member Cathy Kenny and several others, the Town Board voted to keep the hearing open.

The vote was 3-2 for discussion to continue by the new administration. Mr. Siller moved to close the hearing, and there was a delay before BJ Ianfolla finally seconded it. But the rest of the Board voted to keep the public hearing open, leaving it to the new administration to reopen the hearing, likely early in January.

Before the vote, Mr. Gooding said he had several times requested to meet with Mr. Siller to discuss the draft plan and try to come to an agreement about how CPF acquired sites could be used.

Mr. Siller countered by saying there was one executive session in which he felt set up by Mr. Gooding. “Maybe that’s why we had the relationship we had,” Mr. Siller said, charging that Mr. Gooding was coming at “the 23rd hour” to seek changes.

Following that executive session, Mr. Gooding asked for minutes of the meeting and was told there are no minutes or recordings of the session. Under the state’s Open Meetings Law, there would appear to be no reason why the meeting should have been in an executive session, but there also was no requirement, since no decisions were reached on which the public would have had to be informed.

Mr. Gooding said the CPF Advisory Board has been “under a little distress” in trying to deal with the supervisor and Town Board.

BJ Ianfolla, who completed her term on the Town Board at the end of December, said even if the current draft were to be adopted now, it can always be amended. Ms. Ianfolla had served as a liaison to the CPF Advisory Board.

Under the legislation creating the transfer tax to fund acquisition of properties to be preserved, a locally adopted plan for how to function had to be drafted and was intended to be updated at least every five years. Mr. Siller said the existing CPF Acquisition Plan has been outdated for four years and a revision is needed now.

At issue for the CPF Advisory Board, Mr. Gooding said at last week’s public hearing, is a question of how preserved properties may be used, and specifically whether wells or “well field” protection zones can be established on such sites.

He further said he saw the provision for such use on preserved property as a way to introduce transfers of development rights from the preserved properties to places where they could be applied for development.

Ms. Kenny, an attorney, told the Town Board the legislation establishing the CPF failed to designate any use for wells or well field protection zones. She told the Town Board it would be necessary to ask Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor), who wrote the legislation to create the Community Preservation Fund, to discuss amending the legislation before incorporating such use into a revised local plan.

Town Attorney Stephen Kiely acknowledged Ms. Kenny might have a point, while noting the plan states that one of the purposes of the fund is “to implement water quality improvement projects in accordance with a plan to preserve community character.”

Mr. Siller and former councilman Jim Colligan, whose term also ended at midnight on Dec. 31, said priorities have changed. Land preservation for passive uses has achieved its aim and today’s priority is providing potable water to all residents, they said. Mr. Siller added that affordable housing had also risen as a main priority.

Water Quality Improvement Advisory Board and Water Advisory Committee member Greg Toner said that speaking not as a representative of those groups, but as a resident, that work still needs to be done on the draft and no decision should be made to adopt the existing draft without more discussion and investigation.

Councilman Albert Dickson, who took office on Monday, said a number of people have brought up good points that need further discussion. To try and push the existing draft through has “the appearance of this Board slamming it through,” Mr. Dickson said.

His colleague, new Town Board member Benjamin Dyett, agreed.

Former Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee member Lily Hoffman said she never remembers any discussion of siting wells or well field protection zones during three years she worked on updating the Comp Plan. Resident Pam Demarest argued the public hearing had been announced, but not properly noticed, making the session improper.

But Town Clerk Amber Wilson said the meeting had been properly noticed. Ms. Demarest further noted there are references to preserved properties being used for aquifer recharge, but not for withdrawal of water.