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Suffolk County, Shelter Island agreements up for discussion: Effect on environment concerns Islanders

Is a requested intermunicipal agreement between the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning meant to ease the burden on the town, or will it compromise environmental issues of vital concern?

That was the subject of Tuesday’s discussion between the Town Board and County Environmental Projects Planner John Corral.

A letter from Suffolk County Planning Commissioner Sarah Lansdale led to an invitation for Mr. Corral to speak at the Town Board’s Tuesday work session. The letter described the agreement as an “initiative to reduce paperwork and staff time required for the review of minor matters that must be referred to the Commission.”

The aim, it appeared, was to indicate the types of actions that need to be submitted to the Planning Commission, and those that are purely of local concern and don’t need to be submitted for staff review.

Councilman Albert Dickson initiated questions, asking what benefit signing an intermunicipal agreement would bring to the town. Noting that Shelter Island, unlike the other towns that have entered into an agreement with the county, lacks a “robust planning department,” the councilman feared matters could slip through the cracks in keeping up with what should and should not have to be filed.

Mr. Corral called the agreement a time-saving effort.

Is there room for customizing the agreement? Councilman Benjamin Dyett asked.

It’s possible, but more difficult, Mr. Corral said.

Town Attorney Stephen Kiely said the main concern for the Planning Commission is actions having regional significance, or increasing parking needs on a large scale.

Residents, invited by Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams, joined Town Board members in questioning, and Stephen Jacobs questioned how the agreement would affect enlargement of facilities.

Kim Noland, president of the Shelter Island Association, raised issues about the environmental effect on Island waterways. When Mr. Corral said it dealt with specific waterways, such as the Atlantic Ocean and Suffolk County bays, she wanted to know about wetlands protections.

It’s not appropriate to consider signing the agreement without a clear understanding of its potential affect on the environment, Ms. Noland told the Town Board.

Pam Demarest said the Peconic Estuary Partnership, to which Shelter Island belongs, should be on the list of waterways to be protected by an agreement, and told Mr. Corral the Near Shore and Peninsula Overlay District was in need of strong protection. Any agreement needs to consider issues unique and significant to Shelter Island, she said.

Mr. Kiely said the Town Board should look at what it can implement locally to protect the environment.

Councilwoman Meg Larsen said that while she saw no reason not to sign an intermunicipal agreement, it would be important for the Town Board to “tighten things up.”

To date, Shelter Island is the only town in the county that hasn’t signed an agreement, Mr. Corral said. But 15 of 32 villages haven’t signed agreements, he added.

Actions by a municipality that must be submitted to the Suffolk County Planning Commission: are areas within the Pine Barrens zone; those within a mile of an airport or nuclear power plant; or within 500 feet of the boundary of any village or town; any boundary of a county, state or federal park, or recreation area; the right of way of any stream or drainage channel owned by the county or for which the county has established channel lines; any other county, state or federally-owned land held, or to be held, for governmental use; the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island Sound or any bay in Suffolk County or estuary of any of those bodies of water; or the boundary of a farm operation in the agricultural district defined in the state Agricultural and Markets Law.

Conversely, an intermunicipal agreement would exempt several local actions from needing to be submitted to the planners for input. They include:

• All area variances associated with single-family residences.

• Changes of a permitted use to another permitted use in which there would be no significant impact on parking.

• Minor additions of less than 1,000 square feet with no change in use or occupancy.

• Site plan applications proposing less than 5,000 square feet of new or renovated floor area or less than 10,000 square feet of land disturbance. The exceptions to these actions would still require submitting them to the County Planning Staff for review. Supervisor Brach-Williams said the Town Board will continue discussing the report at its February 6 work session.

The entire document is available on the Town website.