Back in November, Tess and Todd Gordon of Laurel approached the Southold Town Board about setting up the first-ever shrimp farming operation in the Town of Southold.
At the time, they were looking into purchasing a nine-acre plot of residential land on Route 48 near Mill Road in Peconic, which would need to be rezoned in order to accomodate a shrimp farm.
Neighbors of the plot of land, many of whom have worked for years to ensure the health of the freshwater and brackish ponds in their neighborhood, weren’t impressed.
New York State Agriculture and Markets law requires towns to make a place for aquaculture in their zoning regulations, so town board members huddled in a code committee meeting in December and released a draft law that would allow aquaculture on residential parcels of land that are greater than five acres. It would also require aquaculture facilities be at least 100 feet from a property line.
When the draft law began to circulate through emails in the community, it didn’t sit too well with the citizenry of Southold, who turned out en masse at the town board’s Jan. 6 meeting to plead that there would be no fish farm in their backyards.
George Viola, who lives on Henry’s Lane in Peconic, near the potential fish farm site, said he hopes the town board doesn’t start changing the zoning of residential land.
“The homeowners have a right for quality of life, protection of their property,” he said. “The petitioner can do what he wants somewhere else. If he keeps coming back to the board to try to have this changed or that changed, I can’t see how he’s thinking of the area as a whole.”
Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the town has not received a proposal for the property in Mr. Viola’s neighborhood, and said the property came up in an informal discussion with the Gordons about the best place to site aquaculture.
“New York State instructed us these are protected agricultural uses. You need to find a home for them somewhere,” said Mr. Russell. “I personally don’t envision a scenario where fish farms are allowed in residential zones.”
Nancy Sawastynowicz of Cutchogue wasn’t at all impressed with the proposal.
“By changing the zoning for one property, you will be changing all over the North Fork,” she said, adding that she believes the proposed 270-foot-long by 54-foot-wide fish farm building will bring with it “odors, flies, rodents and trucks in and out all the time.”
“Before this town should even consider changing the code, I would visit the fish farm on the South Fork,” she said. “This particular piece of land has a native freshwater pond, a natural recharge for water. That should be taken into consideration.”
She said any fish farming should be done in industrial zones.
“Aquaculture is agriculture under New York State law,” said Mr. Russell. “If we do nothing, the State Department of Agriculture can come in and force it.”
“I’m so tired of this town saying we have to give them something,” countered Ms. Sawastynowicz.
“I need to find a home for it,” said Mr. Russell. “We’re doing fact-finding. It’s a process. It involves the community. It involves a lot of thought. We’re not rushing pell-mell into anything.”
“To change the code to begin allowing businesses in residential areas completely destroys the whole purpose of having zoning,” argued Peconic resident George Aldcroft. “The way it was phrased in the draft, if that went through, people could begin putting two to three parcels together [to have a fish farm].”
“Henry’s Lane, where it comes out on Mill Road, will only add to the waste. That watershed goes all the way down to Goldsmith Inlet,” added Mr. Aldcroft. “There’s a time and place for everything. The time may be right to promote aquaculture. This is not the place for it. It might be the time. This is really an industrial business. This is a manufacturing plant.”
Gary Stroud, who lives off of Henry’s Lane in Peconic, moved there because he was driven out of Brookhaven by the industrialization there.
“I love beer and I love shrimp,” he said, pointing out that, when Greenport Harbor Brewing Company wanted to expand, it moved into an old Ford dealership, not into a residential neighborhood. “Put business in a place zoned for business. To put anything in this area, which is so environmentally sensitive, it’s a horrible idea. I hope this is the last we will hear of it.”