The National Park Service is proposing to protect and manage Fire Island by partnering more with state and local stakeholders, instead of issuing top-down directives.
The draft management plan for the Fire Island National Seashore, released last week, looks ahead 20 years and is the first overhaul of federal policies since 1977, officials said.
Much has changed since then, including the near doubling of summer homes and creation of the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness. And concerns about climate change raising sea levels and worsening storms have intensified.
"It's a very different world," said Chris Soller, superintendent of the 26-mile seashore.
The report, to be finalized by early 2016, takes note of the barrier island's social and cultural history, which began with Native Americans and now includes 17 communities.
"The new plan recognizes the communities are here to stay," Soller said. "The decision-making has to recognize that."
That breaks with the agency's view decades ago that the communities would ultimately fail, allowing the Park Service to acquire more land. It also had proposed buying out 258 homes built in the dunes.
The report says that through greater collaboration, the ways people enjoy Fire Island will be balanced with the need to protect wildlife and other natural resources.
The agency failed to curb development because zoning variances were granted over its objections, and it lacks the financial resources and political support to condemn property, according to the report.
The plan proposes consulting with an advisory body or a partnership of local officials to revise federal zoning rules, setting rules for variances, reviews and noncompliant buildings.
Protecting water quality could require revising septic regulations, while saving the dunes could mean modifying occupancy or setback rules, Soller said.
"When we talk about protecting a community's character, is it the height, is it the density of development, is it the number of bathrooms?" he asked.
Other possible initiatives include establishing ferry subsidies for low-income families or students, expanding camping areas and allowing limited horseback riding. "I appreciate the collaborative approach suggested for the management of this ecologically sensitive area," Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said in a statement.
A spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the draft plan will be reviewed.
To help impose more uniform standards, the plan also calls for the Park Service to relinquish the federal dune line and adopt the one the state uses instead.
Irving Like, a Babylon attorney who helped create the national seashore, applauded that idea. "The master plan lessens the likelihood of overdevelopment," he said.
A 90-day comment period starts Friday, and public meetings will be held. Comments may be mailed or submitted online at parkplanning.nps.gov/fiis.