East End lawmakers are taking a page out of the city of Ithaca's book and proposing a zoning initiative to ensure that the campus in Shinnecock Hills remains dedicated to higher education.
In a plan that requires adoption by the Southampton Town Board, a new zoning district known as University-25 would be established. Within the district, for which the minimum lot area is 25 acres, the only development can include higher education purposes and related activities, such as institutes, hospitals, museums, theaters, laboratories, marine stations, radio stations and other not-for-profit enterprises.
"Unless we establish our own centers of higher education excellence, the East End will be left at the gate," New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele said. "This proposal is a major step to insure that we are part of Long Island’s future and not an economic backwater.”
Similar legislation was enacted in Ithaca, where Cornell University and Ithaca College are located. The Southampton plan was co-authored by Thiele, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, and state Sen. Kenneth LaValle, who presented the initiative at a press conference Tuesday in front of Stony Brook Southampton's iconic windmill.
“As we emerge from the deepest recession since the 1930s, the need for vibrant two-year and four-year colleges is critical," Thiele is quoted as saying in a statement from his office. "Not only does higher education create jobs and attract business, they provide the necessary re-education and training East Enders will need to secure the good-paying jobs that will be created on Long Island."
Thiele's office noted that when the campus, then known as Southampton College, was closed by Long Island University, the town instituted a moratorium and conducted a planning study. But no action was taken because the campus was reopened when Stony Brook University bought it in 2006.
In light of recent history — when Stony Brook University moved the four-year undergraduate sustainability programs at Southampton to its main campus — the town should take steps to ensure the campus is always dedicated to higher education, Thiele and Throne-Holst explained.
"New York State made an investment in the Southampton site being a higher education facility and an investment in the economy of the East End," LaValle said. "The town's action will cement the state's vision."
Thiele noted that there are a number of initiatives underway to revitalize the campus, including a new marine sciences building, more arts offerings, the , , and negotiations to build a new home for on the campus.
“I believe the future use of this campus has the potential to be a major economic engine for our community, and a source of transformational resources and talent for all of Long Island," Throne-Holst said. "Ensuring the location remains primarily an educational institution with the opportunity for complementary uses is, in my view, a critically important commitment to our constituents and a decision with immense strategic significance to our region.”