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Shelter Island Reporter editorial: Experience counts

Much passion has attended the decision of the former administration to transfer final decisions to the Planning Board.

During the debate last year, practically everyone who spoke objected to the decision of the Town Board to give up its role in making those final decisions.

Heights Property Owners Corporation General Manager Stella Lagudis pleaded then with that Town Board not to transfer its authority, fearing environmental protections in areas —  particularly those in the Near Shore and Peninsula Overlay District — would be compromised.

Most recently, Ms. Lagudis pointed to court action in the case of 7 Chequit Avenue LLC  that was granted a wetlands permit in what we believe was insufficient environmental review. State Supreme Court Justice James Quinn nullified the Planning Board decision in that case, and ordered a full environmental impact study under the State Environmental Quality Review Act before a decision could be made on the application.

Planning Board Chairman Ian McDonald and Deputy Supervisor Meg Larsen were among the few voices supporting the responsibility for wetlands applications to be transferred to the Planning Board; both spoke out this year about not transferring the authority back to the Town Board.

As an architect on that project, Mr. McDonald had recused himself from the decision. His recusal was perfectly appropriate, the Shelter Island Board of Ethics determined. Its chairman, Duff Wilson, cited statistics showing very few times when Mr. McDonald has had to recuse himself from any Planning Board decisions.

But some critics complained the recusal was more proof that the Planning Board was not equipped to have final authority on wetlands applications. Some argued Mr. McDonald should be removed as chairman of that board if he has recuse himself too often, in their opinion.

We strongly disagree.

To remove a knowledgeable architect, who on occasion must recuse himself from decisions, would mean lessening the expertise needed to make wise decisions.

Remove him and replace him with whom? Someone totally without knowledge to do the job?

That said, we agree the elected Town Board should make final wetlands application decisions, taking advice from the planners, members of the Conservation Advisory Council and, when pertinent, other boards or committees. We have observed the Planning Board reluctant to seek input on some wetlands applications with less environmental concern then we believe necessary.

We do think significant attention must be paid to environmental protections so essential on the Island.