“Save What’s Left” may be the North Fork Environmental Council’s motto, but this week the NFEC is no longer alone in asking the Town of Southold to do just that.

The leaders of nearly every civic association on the North Fork, along with the Group for the East End, spoke up at Southold Town Hall Tuesday, April 16, advocating for a broad moratorium on development while the town finishes a zoning update expected to be complete in spring of 2025.

The Town Board is considering a moratorium on accepting applications for new hotels during the zoning update process, but many community leaders said they want to see a far more broad pause.

The prospect of a broader moratorium was first broached by North Fork Environmental Council Southold Land Use Coordinator Anne Murray at the board’s March 12 meeting, after the board first waded into a discussion of a moratorium on hotels — there are currently five potential hotel projects being proposed in Southold Town, Planning Director Heather Lanza said at that meeting.

“With a moratorium in place, the Town Board, planners and the public will have the time they need to fully focus on the zoning effort, and breathing room to carefully evaluate what we want this place to look like 10 years from now,” she said at that meeting. “Without a moratorium in place, we face pages of plans from more developers who care little for our fragile environment, as well as our fishing and farming heritage. I know all of you as public servants care deeply about Southold.”

The business community has since aired their displeasure with that possibility at a series of community discussions on the zoning update process with business organizations and the town board.

In an April 10 letter to the town board sent after many of the groups received the blessing from their membership, leaders of the North Fork Civics coalition of civic groups asked the town to develop a “carefully defined development moratorium that would be limited to not only new resorts, hotels, and motels, but also new commercial development, major subdivisions, special exception permit applications, zone change requests, and use variances.”

They then showed up at Town Hall to echo that sentiment, after residents showed up en mass at community meetings to discuss the zoning update over the past month-and-a-half.

“There’s no better time than now. You have the legal basis to do it and you have community support for it,” Group for the East End’s Senior Environmental Advocate Jennifer Hartnagel told the board, adding that the Group “is here to support a much broader, carefully scoped general moratorium.”

“There’s no doubt Southold is feeling development pressure. You know it. I know it. Everyone in this room knows it,” she said. She added that The Group has reviewed and supported numerous development moratoriums on the East End over the past two decades, and that if you asked towns that did have moratoriums to look back “the vast majority would say ‘yes, it was necessary at the time and we’re very glad we did it.'”

East Marion Community Association President Ellen Zimmerman read a handful of comments received from members of the organization in support of a broad moratorium.

“We’re a small community, and we’re already seeing unseemly residential development,” read one. “Stop the madness.”

“Stop the development of these monstrosities popping up in our neighborhoods,” read another.

Ms. Zimmerman pointed out that, under “full buildout,” according to Southold’s Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2020, there would be 29 percent more houses in the hamlet of East Marion, but commercial development would increase by 1,104 percent and vehicle traffic would increase by 1,131 percent.

“I’m pretty sure no new roads are going to be built to handle all this traffic,” she added.

Carol Lindley, who is working to build a civic association for residents of the 11944 zip code who live both in and outside Greenport Village, said residents of Greenport “are very concerned about the vulnerability of all commercially zoned property” in the unincorporated areas around the village, especially at three marine-zoned properties on Sterling Harbor and Brick Cove.

She pointed out that marinas could adopt business models of marine clubs with “water suites,” “floating tiny houses that members can rent.”

“Given the lack of any definitions in the code, I don’t know if anything in a moratorium can prevent this kind of expansion,” she said, adding that Greenport residents are also concerned about potential sprawl if a gas station and mini mart is built on the edge of the village boundaries.

She added that the town’s Residential Office code should provide for “affordable housing options without unnecessary commercial development.”

“The zoning overhaul is a once-in-a-generation project. It deserves and needs the full attention of every one of our town government employees and our many resident volunteers working side by side with you…. In 12 months, we’re all going to blink, and it will be April, 2025. Let’s do the right thing and save what’s left.”

Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association President Charles Gueli added that the full build-out of Mattituck would triple the amount of commercial development there now.

“I don’t think that would conform to the goals of the Comprehensive Plan,” he said. “We are in favor of a broader moratorium. We believe when adjustments are made to zoning, everyone should keep in mind the purpose of zoning codes are to prevent property rights from compromising community rights.”

“We need to understand the motivation of people in our community. People are motivated because they live here, they love this place and they want it to stay beautiful and they want the best for their neighbors and themselves,” said New Suffolk Civic Association Treasurer George Cork Maul, who serves as New Suffolk’s representative at the North Fork Civics. “Other people are motivated by money and they put people second. We’re the last place on Long Island where we can keep some sense of rural character and small-town community, caring about your neighbor…. We need to do the right thing. We can’t sleepwalk into the future. In another month or so, we’re all going to be fighting to make a left-hand turn. It’s not good for business if people can’t get here or leave.”

(Editor’s note: Mr. Maul also serves as the Creative Director for the East End Beacon, a non-editorial role)

A handful of business owners also aired concerns.

Glenn Goldsmith, an owner of Goldsmith’s Boat Shop and a Southold Town Trustee, said he hopes any moratorium is “not just a blanket approach. One size fits all is extremely difficult… I don’t envy you guys at all. It’s a huge issue.”

He urged the board to also get feedback from “plenty of others on the sideline who may not be speaking out.”

Suffolk Security owner Paul Romanelli said the town’s Comprehensive Plan calls for hotels in certain areas.

“Right now, the plan is to be completed next March. That’s not that far away,” he said. “A moratorium is a monkey wrench.”

Old Field Vineyard owner Chris Baiz, who serves on the town’s Agriculture Advisory Committee, said he believes Southold’s economy doesn’t allow young adults to live here.

“Every time you see a string of houses in the middle of a farm field, that was a failed farm,” he said. “What are we going to do? We are not going to invite a Tesla auto plant to assemble automobiles here.”

He added that Ms. Lanza had told the board the hotel proposals currently before the town amount to about 180 rooms.

“It does bring a much greater opportunity for the community to be a destination for tourists,” he said. “We can’t avoid it.”

Members of the town board discussed the proposed hotel moratorium before taking the public comment, and made clear that a narrowly focused 12-month moratorium on new hotels is what they’re considering now. The board plans to put a resolution on its April 23 agenda to hold a public hearing on that moratorium later this spring.

Town Attorney Paul DeChance said that the public hearing would likely be sometime in June, because the town needs time to get feedback from the Suffolk County Planning Commission before it adopts a moratorium. If approved, the moratorium would take three weeks from then to go into effect, “in July or early August,” he said.

During the public comment period, Greenport Mayor Kevin Stuessi gave the board an overview of Greenport Village’s process of updating its code in 2023, during which it enacted a six-month development moratorium that did not receive the blessing of the Suffolk County Planning Commission — the Greenport Village Board overrided the Planning Commission’s recommendations in a unanimous vote.

The mayor now serves on the town’s Zoning Advisory Committee, where he attended almost all of a series of community forums on the zoning update over the past couple months.

“We heard loud and clear that the people of this town have the same fears we do of overdevelopment,” he said. “I can tell you, in one year’s time, money will move much faster than zoning changes… Many things are at risk here. The life many of us have chosen is at risk. I’m the new guy here. I’ve been here seven years, and in seven years I’ve seen tremendous changes.

“One of the real challenges with a full-on moratorium is we’re going to be inundated with appeal requests,” said Councilman Greg Doroski. “It’s not my preference or my priority to put a stop to existing businesses already there that need to operate.”

“It’s terrific that people could be here today, but people are sending us comments, constituents who are concerned that they can’t get to things,” said Councilwoman Anne Smith. “We need to make sure we understand who’s in the room and who’s not in the room, and make sure we get perspective, as we go through all of this, on who’s most impacted by whatever decision we’re making and how we can reach out to them.”

“I think it’s going to be a very busy year. Don’t [wait] to show up in March again. We want to hear from you before March,” Town Supervisor Al Krupski told the crowd. “We have a very good history in town of preserving farms as businesses, preserving open space… There’s no reason we can’t preserve working waterfront as a business. We’re putting a lot of effort into that. Greenport saw that as very important, and we see that as just as important here, not just to our economy but to our way of life.

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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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