Pictured Above: Mattituck residents laid out their priorities at a Feb. 26 forum on zoning in Southold Town.

South Fork advocates against overdevelopment are right to warn that we are quickly becoming “Levittown by the Sea,” with a few big differences — the homes being built here are on a scale that would never fit in Levittown, people of modest means can’t afford to live in them, and, in fact, it’s likely that few people will ever actually live their lives in these investment properties.

The massive Central Pine Barrens once served as a buffer between the overdevelopment of western Suffolk and Nassau counties, but even they are being chewed up and replaced with townhouses, big box stores and other amenities readily accessible from arteries with names like the LIE. 

Have you ever contemplated the total build-out of the East End — what this place would look like if everything that could be built here under the current zoning was actually built? Now is the time for us to take a real look at the land as it is being used, and as it could be used. You might be surprised to find how much this place could resemble western Long Island. The builders just haven’t quite gotten here, yet. But they are on their way.

If future land development were to include a few more complexes of townhouses for working people, downtown hamlet centers with small wastewater treatment plants that would allow more affordable apartments above stores, and more clustering of residential subdivisions that would leave open lands intact, we could find a way to live within our changing landscape, and maybe even make it better. 

This won’t happen without members of the public participating in the zoning changes expected to be outlined as Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island continue to develop and implement their comprehensive plans. 

Riverhead Town posted all 13 draft chapters of its new Comprehensive Plan Update online at townofriverheadcomprehensiveplanupdate.com in late February, and is taking written comments from the public (to compplan@townofriverheadny.gov) through March 15. The town is expecting to hold a future public hearing after it revises the plan based on those written comments. This is a crucial part of planning for Riverhead’s future, and the fact that the Town of Riverhead isn’t broadcasting the release of the draft chapters from the hills is all the more reason public input is essential at this stage.

With the help of the same consultant working with Riverhead Town, BFJ Planning, Shelter Island Town is also in the process of updating its Implementation and Action Plan for its Comprehensive Plan Update, emphasizing “the need for the town board, government agencies, community members and other stakeholder to explore the plan in its entirety to gain a holistic perspective on our vision for the future.” More details are at shelterislandtown.gov/216/Comprehensive-Plan.

Southold has contracted with a zoning consultant, ZoneCo, to update its code based on recommendations in the town’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan, and ZoneCo’s diagnostic report of the existing code recognized that “Southold is a unique community — a small historic town at the eastern edge of Long Island’s North Fork. But the town’s zoning code places it in the undistinguished company of many American communities that have outdated, piecemeal updated, cumbersome and inadequate zoning codes that serve as a barrier to fully achieving the community’s vision.”

The line-by-line changes recommended in the diagnostic report are voluminous, and they should be. Like in many towns throughout the country, business and settlement patterns have changed dramatically since the code was first adopted in 1957, and piecemeal updates only serve us so far.

The full diagnostic report is available at the website southoldzoningupdate.com under the “Reports” menu tab. 

Southold Town and the North Fork Civics are engaging every single hamlet throughout the town in the upcoming month, asking residents for suggestions that are specific to the place where they live. If you live in Southold, we urge you to take the time to read through the diagnostic report and share your views at an upcoming forum. This is where the rubber meets the road.

As ZoneCo says, “zoning impacts everyone who owns, users or interacts with real property — which is everyone who lives in, works in or visits Southold Town and its hamlets.”

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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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