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Perlman rolls out plan to upgrade its Shelter Island campus

“I can’t believe you’re here. I can’t believe I’m here.”

The speaker was Toby Perlman, founder and president of the Perlman Music Program, greeting supporters who came to the Island campus to hear about the plans for upgrading it, not enlarging it.

On a cool, rainy Saturday last month, a warm welcome was given to visitors inside the Clark Arts Center. A musical interlude, provided by two young violinists who have studied with Itzhak Perlman, was like an embrace to the group of close to 100 people. The visitors gave back in kind with glowing tributes about what the program has meant to the community, now in its 30th year on Shelter Island.

Violinists Cal Alexander and Vibha Janakiraman treated visitors to a brief musical program that left all wanting more. ((Credit: Julie Lane)

“It’s going to get better, not bigger,” Ms. Perlman said about plans to replace some buildings that have been standing on the site for 100 years, once serving as a summer camp for girls. Perlman officials have worked with Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership of New York City on plans for the changes.

“We seek to preserve the property’s rustic character and charm while upgrading buildings, grounds and sustainability,” according to a letter from the Perlmans, Executive Director Anna Kaplan and Board Chairman Ran Blank.

The program is to remain the same and accommodate the same number of students who participate each summer.

The letter was part of the presentation attorney Frank Isler, Ms. Perlman and Ms. Kaplan made to the Zoning Board of Appeals March 27. They need the change from AA residential in the Near Shore Peninsula Overlay District where the Perlman campus is a non-conforming use, to a permitted use as an educational institution. That allows the work planned to be done with the proper permits. As a non-conforming use in the district, changes would be limited to plans that reduce the non-conformity.

The plans for the Perlman Music Program won’t change its look. The square footage increase results from the creation of basements that maintain the same footprints of buildings. Additional onsite parking is also part of the plan.

Infrastructure improvements will include replacing aged septic systems with state-of-the-art I/A (Innovative/Alternative) systems.

According to the presentation on the proposed three-step process, when all is completed , the site overlooking Crescent Beach will have retained its charm and greenery. What will be gone is the need for Facilities Manager James Cummings and his staff to engage in constant emergency repairs. Instead, they can attend to routine maintenance of buildings and grounds.

If all goes well with a change in use pending with the Zoning Board of Appeals and permits needed to implement the plans, Phase One of the three-step progress would see a new campus center that showcases the Clark Arts Center performance space and a picnic area. Work would also include new faculty cabins, but Ms. Kaplan was quick to add the cabins would leave plenty of meadow area on the property at 62 Stearns Point Road. Other work in Phase One would include renovations to the welcome center and facility cabins.

What if work runs late? a questioner asked. Ms. Perlman emphatically said that’s not going to happen. But if it did, the staff would develop a way to keep the program operating during the summer session in 2025.

Phase Two is to be highlighted by a new boys dormitory, a renovated practice building and the Cumming Stark Building. Phase Three will be construction of a new performance space. The timing on those two phases is not currently available pending a decision on the use change from the ZBA.

The hearing was closed on March 27, but the public can submit written comments up to April 10, and then members will discuss the pending application at a work session April 17 prior to a vote on April 24. But the discussion on April 17 is expected to reveal what that vote will be.

There will be a need to apply for various permits that can likely include State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) plans affecting septics and wells. The DEC has been delaying projects because of its own backlog of applications to be reviewed.