The refrain from community leaders was clear when the Southold Town Board held a Zoom public hearing on the adoption of its Comprehensive Plan Update Aug. 25: The community is ready, willing and able to assist in implementing its goals.
Environmental leaders, in particular, called for the creation of an Environmental Advisory Committee to work to implement environmental recommendations and the goals of New York State’s Climate Smart Communities program.
In October of 2019, Southold became the fourth of five East End towns to take the Climate Smart Communities pledge, the first step in becoming certified a Climate Smart Community by the state.
The town currently has a Conservation Advisory Council, which devotes much of its time to providing the Town Trustees with advice concerning the issuance of wetlands permits.
In the past, Southold has had both a Renewable and Alternative Energy Committee and a Water Quality Advisory Committee, both of which have since been disbanded. The Comprehensive Plan recommends that several of its climate-based goals be implemented by the “Southold Energy Committee,” which does not currently exist.
North Fork Audubon Society President Debbie O’Kane suggested the Environmental Advisory Committee “be comprised of members of the environmental community,” with the goal of implementing environmental recommendations and assisting with outreach to the community.
“Other East End towns have such committees, focusing on water quality and quantity, land use, habitat and wildlife protection,” she said. “I hope you will consider this request.”
North Fork Environmental Council Vice President Mark Haubner agreed, saying he hopes the town works to make Southold “one of the healthiest places in the world to live.”
He urged the board to form a Sustainability Committee, “with a dedicated team of interested and talented experts from the community,” who could round out the town’s Climate Smart Communities team.
“This is a great opportunity to work with other Peconic Bay region towns to achieve these goals,” he said.
Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca of East Marion urged the board adopt the plan quickly.
“The greatest land use and conservation achievements across the region” have come from comprehensive plan efforts, he said. “They give a strategic blueprint for the future of what a community wants to be and specify how to get there. The lack of strong planning and comprehensive zoning are responsible for any number of land use disasters. Once they start piling up, you can lose everything that is truly important to people who live here, as well as those who visit our region and support our local economy, largely because our region looks like a place that people care about and want to come to.”
“If fully implemented, this give us the best possible chance of saving what we have,” he added. “The hardest work still lies ahead.”
Mr. DeLuca’s daughter, Marina DeLuca, a Greenport High School alum who recently graduated from college, said Southold has changed dramatically since she graduated from Greenport in 2016.
She recalled a youth spent with “12-hour days at the beach that end in bonfires, snorkeling in the bay with pufferfish and diamondback terrapins.”
“When I came home in the summer, I was rattled by many countless changes — the woods that were clear-cut, the carnage of roadkill after Friday night traffic sent me to tears, uplighting that made it so we couldn’t look at the constellations, leaf blowers and weed whackers that are so invasive they left people irritated and frustrated.”
She decried a world where “being stuck in traffic no longer means being stuck behind a tractor on the North Road” and “Peconic Bay scallops are a rare treat rather than an everyday occurrence” as increasing housing density creates more septic waste.
“I’m not the only one upset by watching the woods disappear,” she said, adding that friends her age feel the same way.
“We don’t want our town to become just anyplace USA,” she said. “If we wait any longer, it will be too late and the treasure of the North Fork will be nothing but a memory.”
Civic group leaders, who have been working together from Orient to Mattitiuck in recent weeks to discuss their roles in implementing the plan, also pledged their support with its implementation.
Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association President Anne Smith said MLCA is forming a comprehensive plan study group, which plans to facilitate discussions on implementation of various issues in the plan.
“The North Fork civics are working together, meeting regularly to share their perspectives, areas they have in common and that are unique to their hamlets,” she said.
“We hope you will rely on us, because we will be there,” said Orient Association President Drianne Benner, adding that a few major issues of concern to civic groups are water quality, house size, traffic and preservation of scenic viewsheds.
Heather Cusack, the Vice President of the newly formed Cutchogue Civic Association, said Cutchogue residents are concerned in particular with the blockage of historic rights-of-way to bayside beaches, and they would like the town to add language to the comprehensive plan protecting these rights-of-way.
“People who work in a project-based environment know you need motivated and varied people in groups of seven to nine and a deadline in order to get a project accomplished,” said George Cork Maul, who spoke representing the New Suffolk Civic Association. (Editor’s note: Mr. Maul is also the Beacon’s Creative Director.)
Mr. Maul urged the town board to immediately form all necessary project groups to implement solutions to the most urgent issues highlighted in the plan.
“We trust the board can see what those pressing issues are,” he said. “We hope you can find the right chair-people, institute the committees and get the work done, immediately upon adoption. Since this is a living document, steps should be taken to update it. We’re available to help in any way that we can.”
East Marion Community Association President Anne Murray agreed.
“We were enthusiastic supporters of the comprehensive plan planning process over the years,” she said.
The most important thing now, she said, is implementing the plan.
“I hope the town has a process in mind for that. EMCA and the other civics stand ready to help in any way they can,” she said.
The Southold Town Board is accepting written public comment until Tuesday, Sept. 8 and is expected to vote on whether to adopt the Comprehensive Plan at its 4:30 p.m. meeting that afternoon.
Written comments can be emailed to Town Clerk Elizabeth Neville at E.Neville@town.southold.ny.us.
A PDF of the Comprehensive Plan is available on the town’s website, and hard copies are available to view in house or borrow at all libraries in Southold Town and at the Town Clerk’s office.