The Comprehensive Plan for the ten hamlets of the Town of Southold, including Fisher’s Island, is currently being updated by the Town’s Planning Department. The Incorporated Village of Greenport is not included in the Plan.
I recently met with Heather M. Lanza, Town Planning Director, and Mark Terry, Principal Planner, at their office in Southold to discuss the elements of the plan and the process they have been following for its development.
The Village of Greenport is outside the Plan’s boundaries, but its development does have a significant impact upon the Town. Would you please address that?
Heather: I think the Town and Village have a better working relationship than they had in the past. As we plan, we have to keep in mind that the Village is there and try to work with them to have complementary zoning and use planning around their borders.
Mark: The gateway that crosses all hamlets within the Town as well as the Village line is State Route 25. The Village is a high density area. One of our challenges is to make that gateway more attractive to different zoning uses and have a more unified identity. Traffic along that gateway is boundless across the borders.
When was the work on the update started and when is it expected to be completed?
Heather: We started in 2010 and we expect to be completed by 2016. Originally we had hoped to complete by 2012 but we made the decision to involve lots of public input in the process; we are three quarters completed and we are doing it ourselves without the use of consultants except for our economic development chapter, since we do not have an economist on staff.
When did the current Plan go into effect?
Heather: The first zoning goes back to the mid 1950’s. A Comprehensive Plan up-date was done in the 1980’s that never technically got adopted. What they did do based on that Plan was completely revamp the zoning. A Comprehensive Plan includes the Zoning Code and any other smaller plans that have been adopted. So we have approximately twenty-five Plans that have been adopted over time. We do have some really good Plans on our books, such as the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan adopted in 2004, a Scenic Corridor Plan, and others that we are trying to put all under one Plan in the update.
How has the public input you have been receiving affected the Plan? Has it ratified your original thinking? Modified it?
Mark: That’s a key element. Any successful Plan has to have public participation as a key element of its foundation. We have had great favorable response to most of our chapters, because as we move through the process of meeting with the public and then incorporating their suggestion into the chapters, it encourages them to come forward with suggestions on other parts of the Plan as we hold meetings on other chapters. We don’t ordinarily get to meet with the diverse business interests in the hamlets. These meetings have provided an opportunity to hear their concerns. That’s also true of affordable housing.
I think it’s accurate to say that there is broad agreement that there is a need for affordable housing. Is there a constituency for it?
Heather: The answer to that is yes. Young people leave the community because of the lack of affordable housing. I recently had a meeting with school children out in Orient. The teachers were pulling me aside telling me, “we need places to live”, “we need places to live”. In a recent breakfast forum with real estate brokers to get their input on zoning, the topic came up. It comes up all the time. The Town has a Housing Advisory Commission made up of local residents who volunteer their time in an attempt to come up with ideas for the development of affordable housing.
Mark: The Town has been pro-active in trying to meet this need. All Boards support it. But we don’t have legislative powers. Also, we have to deal with the concerns of other government agencies, such as the county Department of Health. Not too long ago, it put out a Request for Proposals for the development of affordable housing. Did we get any responses Heather?
Heather: We did, but nothing ever moved forward, but we’re still trying.
In looking at the Town Zoning Map, I saw two areas zoned for affordable housing. How was it determined that these areas should be zoned for affordable housing?
Heather: When then zoning was determined in the 1980’s, not much attention was paid to what we now call “smart zoning,” issues of density, transportation, proximity to shopping and other geographical considerations.
Is the Town attempting to create affordable housing on a scale similar to the Cottages in Mattituck, which I believe consists of twenty-two units?
Heather: Yes. There is the possibility of the development of twenty-three units, but that is still in the discussion stages.
One of the recommendations from a member of the public was to reduce the minimum square footage requirement. Has that been considered?
Heather: Yes. That is very close to being adopted and put into effect. The Town has already made provision for accessory apartments in detached structures.
I see that in the public recommendations you received, a number of them you noted that you thought they were good ideas and intended to include them in the update. Has that been done?
Heather: Yes. Every recommendation that we said would be included has been included in the update.
Mark: We are applying for a New York State Department of State Environmental Protection Fund Grant. Since you wrote the application, Heather, why don’t you tell about it?
Heather: What we need help in funding is, we don’t have the professional graphics design staff to produce a Plan that’s easily readable with respect to fonts and formatting, for example. We would like to hire a consultant to help us produce that end product which would produce a summary rather than have to flip through every page to get the gist of the Plan and to help us publish a readable document as well as environmental impact statement for submission to the state before we can adopt the Plan.
As a result of your public consultations, have any issues been raised that contradicted your previous assumptions?
Heather: No, there were no real surprises. For example, the first issue we addressed was economic development because, at that time, the recession was in full swing. That was one of our best attended meetings. We are currently working on land-use and zoning and it is difficult to get the public more involved in that. It’s less targeted than agriculture, housing, for instance. We intend to do a draft chapter and share that with the public which should generate more discussion.
Mark: Another point is, the Town has many committees, and after we have these public discussions we meet with these committees to address their particular topics so that we don’t plan within a vacuum.
What have you concluded are the matters of greatest concern to the public?
Heather: I think that will be determined after we have completed the process and will depend on what’s going on at the time. It will also be determined by the Public Hearings that are yet to come and finally before the Town adopts the Plan at a Public Meeting. Let me say, that the creation of Economic Development Committee was a result of the draft chapter on Economic Development.
Does the Town receive any money from the Federal government?
Mark: We received $2 million from the Army Corps of Engineers to study coastal erosion. We also are getting funding for the dredging of Mattituck Inlet.
Looking down your list of chapters to be addressed in the Plan, which is the one that you would give the most emphasis?
Heather: Agriculture. It drives the economy of the town, as well as the amenities that give it its character. The biggest challenge for the community is to balance the needs of agriculture and the romantic notion of what it is.
Mark: From my perspective, environmental issues that affect health, such as water quality, and the public’s willingness to adjust its behavior is a prime consideration.
Have these public discussions made the public more understanding of each other’s concerns.
Heather: Yes, they do. I think attendance at the meetings and the reading of the chapters is likely to encourage better understanding.