Pictured Above: Southold Town Supervisor Al Krupski (center, in blue) discussed zoning with residents of New Suffolk at a March 12 forum at the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Library.

Update, April 10: The Southold Town Board tabled a resolution to hold a May public hearing on the proposed moratorium on applications for hotels and motels at its regular meeting April 9, after hearing concerns from hotel owners who are planning renovations and would like to not be included in the moratorium. The board plans a special meeting Tuesday, April 16 to change wording in the proposal in the hopes of putting it back on the agenda for their April 23 meeting.

From Orient to Mattituck and everywhere in between, from late February through the month of March, Southold Town residents have packed community centers and library meeting rooms to weigh in on the town’s zoning update currently underway, sharing concerns about how the character of the community is changing as development marches eastward.

Now, as the town considers the possibility of a moratorium on hotel, motel and resort development while it works toward updating the zoning code, the business community has also begun to air its concerns.

Town planners brought Sean Suder, the founder of the consulting firm ZoneCo, which is working with the town on the zoning update, to the Southold Town Board’s March 26 work session to give the board an overview of the changes in the first draft of the zoning update, which Mr. Suder expects to present to the town board in mid-summer, followed by another round of public feedback this summer, with formal public hearings next winter in anticipation of the project being finished by the spring of 2025.

Southold Town Planning Director Heather Lanza at the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Assocation's Feb. 26 forum.
Southold Town Planning Director Heather Lanza at the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Assocation’s Feb. 26 forum.

The draft, said Mr. Suder, will include a map of proposed zoning changes.

“That’s where we start illuminating how things are going to change,” he said. “The next phase is illuminating what’s different, and getting public feedback on whether they want it to change.”

Mr. Suder said he expects to consolidate some of the town’s zoning districts, and to look at changes to uses within the code.

For example, he said, the town’s current use regulations don’t mention dog day care centers, but one business-zoned property on Route 48 is used by just such a business.

“We want to give people more flexibility to use their property….in most cases, a map amendment would be beneficial to the homeowner,” he said. “I don’t think anything here is going to be that dramatic that people will be up in arms about it.”

Town Planning Director Heather Lanza said the town is considering innovative ways of getting the information out to the public, including filling the former bank lobby on the ground floor of the Town Hall Annex on the corner of the Main Road and Youngs Avenue in Southold with zoning maps and explanations of the work, possibly putting a booth down the street at Einstein Square to let people know about the display, and making full use of the town zoning update’s dedicated website, southoldzoningupdate.com.

The public feedback gathered at this spring’s community sessions is collected on the website under the “Participate” tab.

At the well-attended community forums hosted by each and every civic association in Southold Town, residents shared their top concerns, with included hotel development, protection of farmland and drinking and surface waters, traffic, the lack of affordable housing and climate change.

“There has been a lot of public engagement, but it’s been pretty general. It hasn’t been site-specific,” said Town Supervisor Al Krupski at the work session. “We’ve been asking people to think about property — you own property. Your neighbor owns property. It’s going to get exciting when people start seeing the possibilities.”

Board members said at the work session that, in recent meetings with the business community, many business owners have expressed concern about a potential moratorium on development while the code is being updated. The town had drafted a public hearing notice for a proposed local law creating a moratorium on the construction of hotels, resorts and motels, but pulled it from the agenda of its March 26 evening meeting.

Quite a bit of the public feedback at the community meetings in the past several weeks has been about the prospect of large hotels being built here, as the recent approval of The Enclaves resort in Southold served to remind them that the town code currently allows hotel uses that many feel are not in character with the North Fork.

Ms. Lanza, who first broached the prospect of a moratorium at the town board’s March 12 work session, said the town currently has one formal application for a new hotel, and has heard two design concepts and two more that are in presubmission meetings with the town, along with two hotel expansion proposals, including one for additional rooms and one for the addition of a restaurant.

That evening, Anne Murray of the North Fork Environmental Council read a letter to the board urging for a much broader moratorium as the zoning update is being considered.

Mr. Suder said he has been involved in the past with municipalities that have enacted moratoria while they were undergoing a zoning update, but “I’m not here to tell you what to do.”

“If there’s a particular development pressure you’re seeing that you want to put a pause on while we’re studying, per your town attorney’s advice you could do something like that,” he added.

“The concern that we’re hearing from the business community is that we’re considering wholesale rezoning,” said Councilman Greg Doroski. “In the discussion of the moratorium, the development pressure we’re seeing is from hotels — it’s a use that has to be considered in the code and potentially redefined. Are there any other uses that seem to be threatening the community?”

“We’re not seeing a lot of other big uses coming in the door. We do have good rules in place for most,” said Ms. Lanza.

Assistant Planning Director Mark Terry said he is also concerned about “large convenience stores coming, attached to these fuel stations.”

“Now, it makes sense to focus our attention on hotels,” said Mr. Doroski. “We want to make sure we’re not creating an unnecessarily contentious process around this. My fear is these sorts of discussions get taken out of context, with people coming to board meetings arguing for full moratoriums.”

Attendees at the community forums placed red dots on their top priority issues.
Attendees at the community forums placed red dots on their top priority issues.

Councilman Brian Mealy said he’s heard at recent community discussions concern from large employers about whether a moratorium might impact plans underway to provide housing for their employees.

Planners said they don’t anticipate such a moratorium.

Councilwoman Anne Smith said she doesn’t want to see the discussion of a moratorium distract the public’s attention from weighing in on the zoning update process.

“Let’s keep it focused,” said Ms. Lanza of the proposed moratorium. “People want to know what we’re doing, and at the Chamber (of Commerce) meeting people were very concerned about a general moratorium.”

“In a year, the cement’s going to be dry,” on the zoning update, said Town Supervisor Al Krupski. “But the cement’s not even mixed yet. This is the time get your comments in. Look at your property. Look at your uses. It’s not too late. It’s the right time.”

The board is slated to discuss a proposed 12-month moratorium on processing applications for hotels, motels and resorts at its April 9 work session, and as of this writing had a resolution on the agenda (2024-308) for its meeting that evening to set a public hearing on the proposed hotel moratorium, which would be held May 21 at 4:30 p.m. at town hall.

The town’s Economic Development Committee will also host Ms. Lanza’s presentation on the zoning update at its Spring Economic Forum on April 17 from 9 to 11 a.m. at Raphael Vineyards in Peconic. Admission is free. Here’s more information.

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Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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