Editorial: To Southold: Take Comp Plan to Heart

It might not be your first pick for a breezy summer beach read, but paper copies of Southold Town’s newly released Comprehensive Plan are available at your local library, and if you love your leisure time here, you have an obligation to go check it out.

As a steady line of cars heads eastward Friday afternoons on both the Main Road and the North Road and sometimes even another back road that we will not name, Hampton Jitney buses spill out passengers who, if they’re lucky with the rush hour traffic, have spent four hours on the bus already before they reach the supposed peace and quiet of our shores.

Meanwhile, the Long Island Rail Road spews out city dwellers in business attire with carry-on luggage, who make a beeline for their Uber, or for the North Ferry passenger terminal, or, if they are lucky enough to know someone locally, to their friends’ cars, air-conditioners pumping, waiting to whisk them away. All the while, a silent line of white vans heads steadily west — the out-of-town laborers who are leaving this once tranquil place for their own quiet hideaways in the depths of the Pine Barrens.

If this sounds like the South Fork to you, you haven’t been outside in the past few months. The North Fork is hot, and people are coming here in droves.

Now, we have nothing against city dwellers here at The Beacon. There are plenty of people who come here who know how precious this place is, and who want to preserve it because they know how bad development can ruin lives.

But we can’t ignore the fact that our infrastructure just can’t handle the influx of summer visitors, and the only way to accomodate them is to dramatically change this place for the worse.

We also cannot ignore that an economy based on tourism and second homes provides more low-paying and seasonal jobs than stable incomes, and leaves our workers and long-time residents priced out of being able to live here, which will further exascerbate our traffic problems. If you don’t believe this, take a trip to the South Fork.

There’s been much complaining in Southold over the past few years about how long it’s taken Southold Town to draft its new comprehensive plan. The project took a decade, and in that time, an awful lot here has changed.

Southold Town Planning Director Heather Lanza was visibly excited at the first public hearing on the plan before the town planning board on July 29. At first, we thought she was excited because the plan was done, but we realized as she spoke that she was actually excited because the real work can now begin.

In its 292 pages, Southold’s Comprehensive Plan looks back on where the town has been, takes stock of where we are now, and gives guidelines for where we may be in the future.

The ‘where we may be in the future’ part is a bit like a choose-your-own adventure novel. The maximum build-out numbers, which show how much development could still come to Southold, are a wake-up call, but they are not an inevitibility. And by quantifying where we could end up, we can now quantify what we will do to keep that from happening. We can’t improve what we haven’t measured. This plan is just the beginning. The next step is to implement it.

We heard many people at the July 29 hearing say that time is of the essence in adopting this plan. We also heard a few skeptics wonder if the local elections on Nov. 6 are driving the deadline for adoption of this plan. We hope the important work of adopting the plan doesn’t fall victim to jockeying around the political season. There will always be an election coming or going. In the meantime, more people are ‘discovering’ the North Fork every day.

So, what’s to be done?

The next step is up to all of us. If you get a little free time, head down to your local library and check out the comprehensive plan. Flip through the pages — it’s prettty to look at, and so much easier to comprehend in print than online. Find something in there that’s important to you, an idea that you can get behind and help Southold to achieve. And then go tell your leaders what matters most about Southold to you. It’s the public who will set the priorities for implementing the plan. Now is the time to let your ideas be known.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, 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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