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Fishers Island utility seeks town OK for more worker housing

Fishers Island as seen on July 3, 2012.

Fishers Island as seen on July 3, 2012. Photo Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

Southold Town officials are studying a proposal from a Fishers Island-based electric company that would require a zoning change on properties it owns to allow for more housing for workers they say are vital to providing utility services on the island.

Fishers Island Utility Co. with a work force of about 20 people, now houses four field workers and some administrative staff in three of its properties on the island. The company is looking to convert the zoning of some of its properties from single-family residential to “hamlet density status,” which allows for multifamily residences.

The utility company would need the zoning change in order to create between eight to 10 units of housing on a vacant 1.78-acre land parcel it owns on Central Avenue to house some of their electric, water and telephone field workers. Company officials said having the workers on the island was essential, especially during an emergency.

“One of our biggest challenges is if the [ferry] boat isn’t running, then nobody can get here,” company President Chris Finan said, noting the limits on ferry service, especially in the off season. The 9-mile long, 1-mile wide island 11 miles off the tip of the North Fork is only reachable by ferry from New London, Connecticut.

Utility company board of directors member Tom Siebens and Finan told the Southold Town Board at its Tuesday work session that creating more housing on Fishers Island for those employees would help retain field workers, which the company said has been difficult. The goal is to eventually create enough housing for at least 15 employees, Finan said after the meeting.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Tuesday after the meeting he supports sending the proposal to the Planning Board for tuning, and added if the proposal worked, the town could “possibly” try it on the mainland.

“I support new and innovative ways of solving the affordable housing crisis. If this plan works, it may be a good model to try here,” Russell said.

But board members said there was an urgent need to get housing set up for company workers to provide electricity to island residents at all times.

“I don’t think we’re going to get flak from folks on Fishers Island, because this is something they need and want,” Town Councilman Bob Ghosio said, calling the zoning proposal “a public safety issue”.

“We are a small island, and you can’t drive in during an emergency situation,” added Town Councilwoman Louisa Evans, a Fishers Island resident.

The proposal goes to the town Planning Board for consideration before returning to the town board for further review, Russell said.

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