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Southold supervisor proposes legislation to site third maritime district in Orient

The property of the Department of Homeland Security

The property of the Department of Homeland Security in Orient on Saturday. Southold Town supervisior Scott Russell pitched a piece of legislation that would pave the way of a maritime district by this location. Credit: Randee Daddona

The protection of property in Orient, which Southold Town officials and environmental advocates call the gateway to Plum Island, is the goal of new legislation town officials are considering.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell presented legislation calling for the creation of a Marine III district at a Sept. 10 town board work session.  

While the proposed zoning could apply to other suitable areas, officials envision it in a 9-acre parcel off Main Road in Orient that is owned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Town officials and environmental advocates have identified the developed property as a key ferry access point to and from Plum Island for employees at the island’s research facility.

While Plum Island’s potential sale is currently in litigation after environmental groups sued Homeland Security and the General Services Administration in July 2016 to block the sale, advocates who had approached Southold officials about the issue said the legislation could help plan the future of the property and the future reuse of Plum Island.  

“There was concern that if that parcel was to be sold privately, there’s a high potential for someone to come back with an intensive project,” Robert S. DeLuca, president of Bridgehampton-based environmental advocate Groups for the East End, said Sept. 18. “That got us thinking about more protective zoning, whether it’s sold or not, to try and protect it as best we can.”

Louise Harrison, the New York Natural Areas coordinator for environmental nonprofit Save the Sound, said Sept. 18 that the legislation is good forward thinking.

“It’s always better to plan than react,” Harrison said. “A developer with a lot of money and big goals for commercial development could really have a heyday [at the Orient property], and we don’t think that’s appropriate for that part of the world.”

While Southold already has Marine I and II district zoning, those zoning types would still allow for “quite a bit of activity” on the Orient property, Russell said. For that reason, a third type of marine zoning is being discussed.

“We’ve been doing a lot of decision-making, envisioning new uses for Plum Island, but that parcel is critical for making any of those things happen,” Russell said.

Under the proposed new zoning, permitted uses within a Marine III district would include marinas, aquaculture research, town-owned or operated buildings, diving or bathing supplies and equipment, and uses which the town’s Board of Appeals allow by special exception, among others.

While the legislation allows for “modest uses” supporting maritime culture, it was geared toward trying to “eliminate all the other uses that might get in the way of what the function of that parcel should be, which is as a ferry landing to and from Plum Island,” Russell said.

The legislation will be discussed further with the town’s Code Committee and other town departments before it can be considered for adoption.


  • The Marine III zoning’s purpose would be to “provide a waterfront location for a suitable range of water-dependent uses,” according to the legislation. Those uses would have to require direct access to, or location in, marine waters while being compatible with “sensitive environmental features or resources, public open space and areas of documented historic or archaeological significance.”
  • Among uses that could be allowed in Marine III districts via special exception would be fish markets, museums with nautical or maritime themes and nonprofit research or public educational facilities whose work is directly associated with the coastal environment, local aboriginal culture or maritime culture.

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