The Fishers Island Utility Co. wants to build affordable housing on the island to house its workers year-round, but some residents are raising concerns about potential environmental and traffic impacts, among other issues.
The company, which provides electric, water and telephone service across Fishers Island, last year asked Southold Town to grant a change of zoning on a 1.28-acre property on Crescent Avenue. Company officials have said the utility needs a way to keep and attract skilled workers on the 9-mile long, 1-mile wide island — which is 11 miles off the North Fork — on a 24/7 basis, a challenge that Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said he recognizes.
“Running a utility company is not easy and you do need skilled workers,” Russell said. “The problem is getting skilled workers to come to Fishers Island and live there and work, particularly since there’s very little housing options.”
The island's year-round population is normally about 250 residents, according to 2017 data from the American Community Survey. During the summer months, the population can swell to between 3,000 and 4,000 people.
The zoning change — from R-80 residential to hamlet density zoning — would clear the way for the company to build a two-family home to house employees, especially in the event of an emergency. The R-80 zoning would only allow for a one-family home to be built on the property.
In 2017, the company proposed creating housing for eight to 10 workers on a 1.7-acre property they owned on Central Avenue.
At a Feb. 26 public hearing in Southold Town Hall on the proposal, several Fishers Island residents said they were worried the housing would lead to other problems.
Jessica Doyle said the housing project could create additional strain on on-site wastewater disposal systems and suggested town officials “slow this process down and take a look at the environmentally responsible options” for housing the company’s employees.
Elizabeth and Tom Cashel, who live three houses down from the proposed housing site , have also expressed reservations.
Elizabeth Cashel said that while she “strongly supports development of housing for year-round residents,” she would like assurances that the property will only be used for that purpose.
Chris Finen, president of Fishers Island Utility Co., could not be reached for comment. At the Feb. 26 public hearing, he said that while housing year-round employees would increase rates for ratepayers, it was still the cheaper alternative compared to bringing in contract labor.
“We’d spend $1.5 million to bring in contract labor to where our salary for a lineman would be $400,000, so it’s a huge increase,” Finen said.
Russell said the public hearing on the housing project is now closed, but that residents could still submit written comments to Town Hall. The project will be on the board’s March 12 regular meeting agenda for a vote, he added.
A FEW CAVEATS
- The housing project would not follow any affordable housing guidelines, according to Southold Supervisor Scott Russell. Since the workforce housing units would go to skilled workers, Russell said Fishers Island Utility Co. did not want to be limited by the income eligibility components of affordable housing.
- The company agreed in principle that the property would only be used for housing year-round residents, Russell said. He added that the town can make that into a condition for the zoning change.
- The full costs of the housing project would be paid for by Fishers Island Utility Co., according to town officials.