Friday, January 14, 2011

Southold 2020 Master Plan– Citizens for a Sustainable Southold Vision Statement

Over the years the Town has conducted numerous studies, involving countless hours of community input, all of which came to the same conclusion: Southold is a unique and special place and we must protect our environment and preserve agricultural and maritime heritage. This in turn supports our local economy, fueled, in large part by tourism and second home ownership. If our farmlands are overdeveloped and our waterways, beaches and air quality are further degraded, Southold will become an environmental casualty.

Thus far, various Town Boards have fallen short of enacting legislation that would truly support the long-term vision and spirit of the various studies and plans produced over the last three decades. As a result, we have lost precious farmland to development, experienced inappropriate commercial overdevelopment and natural resources have been degraded (polluted groundwater, less bountiful and biologically diverse water bodies and marshlands are examples.) Rather than having concentrated growth in hamlets affording mixed housing opportunities, we have followed a pattern of sprawl.

There are more compelling reasons for the Town to have a clear and legislatively supported blueprint for moving forward in the coming decades: global climate change and the critical need to transition from expensive, dangerous carbon based forms of energy to forms of non-polluting renewable energy and the beneficial effects these will have on agriculture, natural resources and the economy on the North Fork. Finding solutions to these global problems on a local level is not at odds with goals previously identified by the Town. These pressing global problems are felt locally and can create the necessary momentum to get plans translated into law.

We can achieve a workable Comprehensive Plan if we acknowledge these issues and face them head-on. The challenges are great, but meeting them is doable if decisions are based on science and long-term community benefit. The Comprehensive plan process is an exciting opportunity to envision Southold as a diverse, sustainable and resilient community and to move this vision towards reality. Southold can be a model for other towns by becoming more self-reliant, managing our resources sustainably, and contributing to the larger issue of global stability. Our goal is to organize a group of citizens who share this vision and who will lobby for a sound Comprehensive Plan.


Preserve Farming–The world food supply is stressed by increased production and shipping costs, the continuing loss of productive farm land, and by the effects of climate change. The food supply is further pressured by increasing world population and hence an increase in world hunger. In the face of this, it will become more critical to maintain Southold’s agricultural base and the ability to produce food locally. Incentives should be created for those who want to grow food for local markets. In addition, the Town should promote and support CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and community gardens.

Preserving farmland is beneficial to the local economy. Reducing build out will keep taxes down. All reputable planning groups agree that added housing raises taxes:
Please see the Economic Benefits of Open Space Preservation issued by the Office of the State Comptroller, March 2010: .

Currently, as codified in Town Law, Agricultural Conservation (AC) land can become residential development. Although the Town identified prime farm land and acknowledged the importance of preserving AC land to preserve farming, AC land permits the same uses as R80 (2 acre/res. unit) land. The Town has a fairly successful Purchase of Development Rights Program (PDR), but it relies solely on the willingness of land owners to participate, the success of which is heavily influenced by market forces, and doesn’t guarantee farmland will be preserved. Current zoning has created a situation where farmland is often too expensive for farmers, especially for new farmers and those wanting to grow food crops as they are competing with developers for land.

The Comprehensive Plan must have mechanisms in place which will guarantee the best use for AC land is agriculture and stays in agriculture without residential development.

Protect Ground Water– Climate change is creating water shortages globally. The North Fork water is provided by a sole-source aquifer. We are bound to face water shortages in the coming decades and we cannot depend on out-of-town supplies of water to meet community needs. The heavy use of both residential and agricultural fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides have polluted both ground and surface waters and jeopardized human health. We must eliminate the use of dangerous chemicals, encourage best management practices, and phase out the use of household lawn and garden chemicals. In addition, we must carefully conserve our resource.

The Comprehensive Plan must have clear actions to protect our groundwater including ways to reduce the amount of dangerous chemicals that migrate into our aquifer, appropriate zoning for Special Ground Water Protection Areas (SPGAs) and effective conservation measures.

Affordably protect/restore wetlands, shorelines and water bodies and facilitate public access – Our beaches, wetlands and water bodies have been degraded by pollution, inappropriate shoreline development and overfishing. Subterranean septic systems are responsible for much of the harmful nitrogen that leaches into our groundwater and our surface waters, damaging wetlands, killing fish and encouraging the growth of invasive species. Current law regarding the maintenance of septic systems is inadequate, routinely ignored, and rarely enforced. Run-off from roads and farming operations has further polluted creeks and estuaries. Shoreline hardening in the form of docks, bulkheads and groins has hastened the erosion of our shores and limits public access to our shorelines. The accelerating rise in sea level confronting our hardened shoreline will result in the disappearance of salt marshes and intertidal zones. Episodes of storm surges launched from higher sea levels will cause destruction and financial hardship to public and private properties.

The Comprehensive Plan must include tangible actions that will strengthen and enforce septic codes, reduce road and farm run-off, decrease the use of agricultural and residential pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers, prevent further shoreline hardening, and strengthen the wetlands code so it reflects current science. Finally, the Town must become a proactive partner in restoring regional fisheries. The plan must include mechanisms that limit or modify development in areas that are threatened by climate change and rising sea waters.

Limit/direct future residential development –Because Southold does have limited resources (especially clean, potable drinking water) and the community has agreed preserving farming and protecting our natural resources are priorities, build out should be substantially reduced from what is allowed under current zoning. In addition, rather than creating new subdivisions on AC lands, development should be limited to the Hamlet Centers, where opportunities for mixed housing, including work force housing, may be greater. Citizens have been skeptical of plans increasing Hamlet Density without a guarantee that the potential for an equal number of housing units would be extinguished elsewhere. This has led to the fear that sewers and public water in the hamlet centers (which may, in fact, prove better for the environment and for public health), would lead to increased development and would eventually extend into areas outside of the Hamlet (Halo) Zones.

The Comprehensive Plan must adopt mechanisms which will substantially decrease build out levels from what is allowed under current zoning. In addition, mechanisms must be in place to direct additional development to Hamlet/Halo areas while extinguishing a comparable amount of potential development elsewhere.

Encourage Development of Renewable Energy –The gulf coast disaster has revealed the real cost of continuing to rely on fossil fuels for energy. If we are to transition from carbon producing fuels and do our part to stem the tide of global climate change, reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources and become more self reliant, the Town must act proactively to promote this transition. This can be done in a number of ways including through tax incentives, more liberal laws in relation to wind and solar development (especially in AC land and SGAs) and Town Sponsored Renewable Energy projects.

The Comprehensive Plan must include mechanisms which will promote the development of renewable energy in a significant, local way.

Lower Southold’s Carbon Footprint–Our reliance on automobiles, our penchant for bigger and bigger homes and our clear-cutting of woodlands all contribute to global climate change.

The Comprehensive Plan must adopt “green building” standards that promote energy, water and resource conservation as well as requiring non-toxic building supplies, etc. Also, the town must adopt legislation that will reduce the square footage of new housing with legislation such as “pyramid laws”. In addition, the plan must include more stringent clearing and tree codes that reflect current science. Policies must be adopted that will promote pedestrian and bicycle traffic rather than cars, especially in our hamlets. The Town must work toward a regional transportation system which shifts from cars to light rail and bus.

Strengthen the Local Economy – The current economic trend in America – that wealth continues to flow to the affluent while middle and working class Americans find it harder to make ends meet – is a serious problem in our society. Southold is no exception to this socioeconomic malaise. Indeed, it is changing our community in ways that continue to rob our town of its special uniqueness. The exodus of working people and the young continues. Many young people want to stay in Southold but cannot survive here. We are a mostly senior community, and we risk becoming a community where only wealthy seniors and second homeowners can afford to live.

A recent demographic report (See Southold 2020 website) shows as of 2009 our population was 21,605. Of those 9,938 were employed. The retired population was 8,440 and those described as empty nesters numbered 3,231. (The report does not break out full time versus part time residents)

Tourism is main the economic engine for Southold, but if the economic downturn continues on for many years this could change. We must augment this by creating sustainable businesses that are not just tourist-dependent low-paying service jobs. We should seek new ways to create and sustain jobs through such things as tax incentives and encouraging the adaptive reuse of existing buildings.

We should explore creating a Sustainable Southold through obtaining federal and state sustainable community funding. See:

Some ideas for sustainable businesses are: renewable energy research and development; green building retrofit and construction; marine science research, expanding aquaculture, creating a business incubator for entrepreneurs in Internet and technology-based businesses. A mentoring program could be set-up with retired seniors interested in sharing their expertise with young people. A survey could pinpoint town residents currently working from home in businesses in which workers can telecommute.

The city of Dubuque, Iowa committed to a sustainability, which it defined as “a community’s ability to meet the environmental, economic, and social equity needs of today without reducing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Its model has a three-part approach that addresses: environmental and ecological integrity, economic prosperity and social and cultural vibrancy. (See ) Although Dubuque is much larger than Southold, its programs are worth exploring for ideas we could implement in Southold.

The Comprehensive Plan must include mechanisms which promote a variety of sustainable job opportunities, thus ensuring Southold becomes a diverse community (good jobs for younger people) not one solely based on a tourist/service economy. Also, mechanisms must be adopted which ensure a meaningful amount of affordable housing stock.

Preserve Plum Island –Plum Island is both an ecologically diverse and historically significant island and must not be developed commercially or residentially. All environmental degradation and pollution resulting from the operation of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center must be remediated by the Federal Government before it vacates the island. Plum Island must be preserved as a National Wildlife Refuge as argued by the Preserve Plum Island Coalition. (

The Comprehensive Plan must include zoning provisions preventing commercial or residential growth of Plum Island and facilitates the establishment of a National Wildlife Refuge which would encompass all or most of the island.

*Plans are good, but only if there is legislation to support the goals of the plan. In turn, there must be mechanisms in place to ensure that codes are enforced! The Town must dedicate the resources necessary to hire staff to accomplish efficient, fair enforcement, the cost of which could be offset by the levying of fines that truly fit the violation and are more than just the “cost of doing business” and can serve as an deterring example to those may be tempted to violate the Town Code.