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City Island Maritime Heritage Preservation Study cover City Island Maritime Heritage Preservation Study, a summary report with recommended planning and zoning strategies, and three technical reports with histories of the island's development as a boating center and an assessment of its maritime industry today, 2001. ($5.00 each, $15.00 set)
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INTRODUCTION TO SUMMARY REPORT

City Island, part of Community District 10 in the Bronx, is located at the western end of Long Island Sound, with a narrow bridge connecting it to the eastern shore of the Bronx. It is only about a mile-and-a-half long and a half-mile wide at its widest point, and the island's main street, City Island Avenue, runs the length of the island from the bridge to the southern end at Belden Point.

Starting in the early nineteenth century the island's location on the Sound and near New York City helped to create a thriving local economy based on water-dependent industry, trade and services. The practice of oyster cultivation in the United States is said to have originated here, and was an important part of the island's economy until pollution and politics ended it by the early twentieth century. From the middle of the nineteenth through the better part of the twentieth century City Island's main industry was boat building, along with ancillary trades such as sailmaking. All kinds of wooden boats were built here, ranging from small skiffs to large cargo schooners. City Island gained a reputation for the finely crafted cruising and racing yachts built and serviced here; its place in history was sealed when it built five America's Cup winners in a row.

During the First and Second World Wars, City Island boatyards remained busy with Navy contract orders for small vessels such as minesweepers and landing craft. After World War II boatbuilding declined as an active industry on City Island and many of the boatyards have been converted to other uses. Today the island is primarily residential, and is best known for its popular seafood restaurants. Several marinas, yacht clubs and marine businesses continue to operate on the island. But over time the economy of the island has shifted away from marine manufacturing to one dominated by marine services and restaurants.

In 1994 New York State designated City Island as one of 17 "historic maritime communities" along Long Island Sound. The state Historic Centers of Maritime Activity Act recognized that each of these communities possesses a special heritage that arises from its location on the Sound and from its tradition of maritime and water-related activities. To varying degrees and in different ways in each community the maritime heritage is palpably present. On City Island, it is evident in a bustling marina, the remnants of an old pier, a graceful waterfront promenade, a cluster of carefully maintained nineteenth century homes, or just a tantalizing glimpse of the Sound. These are examples of "historic maritime resources," broadly defined. They help to give City Island and other historic maritime communities their special character and often a special economic niche, and are thus valuable, often deeply cherished assets to the community.

Of the 17 historic maritime centers, three are located in Westchester, three in Nassau, and eight in Suffolk. City Island is the only such community located in Bronx County, and in fact the only one that is part of New York City rather than its own incorporated village or municipality. Each historic maritime community has its unique set of issues, resources, community concerns and overall planning goals. Thus the Act envisioned that each community would take stock of its historic maritime resources and eventually develop its own plan, tailored to the community's special needs, in order to determine how best to protect, manage and celebrate them.

In 1998 the New York State Department of State awarded a grant to the Department of City Planning to conduct the City Island Maritime Heritage Preservation Study as part of the New York City Waterfront Revitalization Program. The grant provided the opportunity to explore and define City Island's maritime heritage, to identify the community's historic maritime resources, and to consider ways in which to preserve and enhance those resources.

This report, along with the accompanying technical reports, reflects the results of the work that was done on different aspects of the City Island Maritime Heritage Preservation Study. The summary report analyzes a range of issues affecting the community and recommends zoning and planning strategies to address them. The technical reports include:

A Maritime History of City Island and There is an Island: City Island's Growth and Development. These narrative research papers help to establish what it means to refer to the Island's "maritime heritage" from a historical standpoint. They focus on City Island's past, and reveal the island's lively and fascinating history.

City Island Maritime Industries Assessment, prepared by the Department's consultant on the study, the planning firm of Buckhurst Fish & Jacquemart. This report examines the current state of City Island's water-dependent businesses and uses, particularly marinas and yacht clubs; describes the issues impacting on their viability; and explores ways to strengthen them and ensure their continued presence on the island for the future.

These reports, as well as a preliminary survey of the island's architecturally significant buildings to be issued separately, reflect an attempt to take stock of the island's historic maritime resources in many of its aspects and to lay a foundation for further discussion and community-based planning efforts. These reports do not constitute the Department's master plan for City Island. Rather, they lay out a "menu" of opportunities, elements of which the community can decide to pursue—or not. In addition, these reports may serve as reference tools that might be used in a variety of ways. For example:

• The historical narratives can help to acquaint newcomers to the island's history, increase long-time residents' awareness as to some of the finer details, and foster community pride in the Island's illustrious heritage. They can also provide a basis for further research and be used in conjunction with applications for historic site designations.

• Marinas and other water-dependent businesses can use the Maritime Industries Assessment report as a keystone document for working together to address their common needs and to enlist the support of elected officials and others to help solve some of the problems.

• Community organizations seeking funding for certain programs may wish to include relevant portions of the report to lend extra support to their grants applications.

Finally, this package of reports is the tangible evidence of the work that was performed on the City Island Maritime Heritage Preservation Study. But there was a very important intangible result as well. The study provided opportunities in which community members could participate in structured yet informal forums in order to discuss some of the island's issues. This was particularly true of the two Public Workshops that were conducted as part of the Maritime Industries Assessment. During these workshops, marina owners, yacht club representatives, residents and others actively participated in small roundtables on selected topics and then assembled into a larger group to share their views and ideas. The evening forums were well-attended, lively and very positive events, and the Island Current's timely and detailed reports on them informed a larger audience. Community members were instrumental in helping to frame the issues considered and ultimately the recommendations reached.

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View a map of City Island Land Use


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