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Planners Pitch Plum Island Zoning, Say 'No' to Casino

Two zoning districts pitched to town board for 840-acre island: research/education, and conservation.

As the federal government continues to prepare selling Plum Island, home of a high-security animal testing laboratory, town planners on Tuesday pitched two separate zones on the currently unzoned island: one dedicated to research and education, and another to conserving land.

While the proposal remains in its initial stages, what remains clear is the town’s wishes to keep specific uses off the island. Namely – in the larger conversation of the Shinnecock Indian Nation earning federal recognition two years ago – a casino. Or, considering the amount of unbuilt land and waterfront property, any kind of luxury resort.

“It’s kind of a wishlist kind of zoning where we’re saying, “'Look, this is what we really want to see there,’” said Planning Director Heather Lanza. “And we can make it very clear this is what we’d like to see there, so that people out there thinking “Oh, we can buy it and build a casino, or we can buy it and do this.” That it’s not realistic.”

Supervisor Scott Russell has previously stated that he would like to see the existing research infrastructure on the 840-acre island as the cornerstone for future employment opportunities.

He explained following the discussion that any consideration of extending the island beyond its current use or infrastructure to something such as a resort must be considered in the larger context of what it would cost mainland residents.

“When we have an existing research facility, the best use for that would be to maintain it as a research facility,” Russell said. “We have a small two-lane road leading to the ferry. We just don’t have the infrastructure to support high-density development. We bear enough traffic as it is.

“On top of that, you have to think of policing, schooling, firematics. When you start adding those uses, you start putting a demand on services.”

The draft proposal as it stands currently would split the island into at least one 175-acre Plum Island Research District and the Plum Island Conservation District, at least 600 acres.

The Conservation District, according to a draft proposal presented at a work session, would be dedicated to “preserv(ing) the island’s regionally significant natural resources and cultural resources (cultural and scenic).”

The federal government, deeming the current facilities on Plum Island not secure enough to handle its highest level of testing, decided to build a new $1 billion facility in Kansas in 2009. However as funding for the project remains a constant topic of debate, the immediate future of Plum Island is business as usual – at least through 2019. Long term, the town is zoning the land for an eventual sale, the proceeds of which would be required to help pay for the Kansas facility.

Currently the island, purchased by the federal government in the 1800s, is unzoned.

The sole permitted uses in the research district would be “research laboratories and/or educational facilities, with multiple buildings allowed in a campus-style development,” and buildings/uses owned and operated by Southold Town and fire districts.

The conservation district would permit a nature preserve, passive recreation parks, educational facilities related to conservation study, museums in existing historic structures, and buildings operated by Southold Town and fire districts.

Throughout the island, alternative energy uses such as solar, wind, and tidal facilities would be permitted, and could potentially house up to 120 acres of the conservation district. The entire island calls for no new structures within 300 feet of the shoreline.

Town officials will review the draft zoning with the intent of discussing the proposal at an upcoming Code Committee meeting. From there, further changes may be made before the Town Board would adopt the zoning, which would require a public hearing before approval.

What do you think of the draft zoning proposal? Let us know in the comments.

Bob DeLuca, Group for the East End October 09, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Congratulations to the Town of Southold for advancing a conservation-based land use and zoning plan, which reflects Plum Island's fragile natural resources and remarkable cultural history. As the federal government still prepares for a private sale, we hope the Town can move quickly to impose the most restrictive zoning on this unique property and preserve its natural integrity for generations to come.

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