For the second week in a row, the Town Board discussed what a homeowner can do with his/her property, especially when it comes to renting it.
The specific issue is short leases used for large parties, especially weddings that cause distress to neighbors and might constitute a commercial use on a residentially zoned property. The matter was brought to the Town Board’s attention by more than 20 residents of Ram Island who have written complaining about a neighbor.
The neighbor, Trip McCrossin, owner of 89 Ram Island Drive, frequently rents the house as an illegal venue for weddings, according to Building Inspector William Banks. Neighbors have cited increased traffic, loud music to all hours, litter and excessive lighting from parties. On some occasions, Mr. Banks told the board Tuesday, “Many people on this property didn’t have access to the house but only the lawn.” Recently, the house was listed on an upscale site for commercial wedding venues, northforkweddings.com, before being taken down.
Mr. McCrossin has been invited by Supervisor Jim Dougherty to attend work sessions but has declined, just as he declined comment when reached by the Reporter.
Mr. Banks said 89 Ram Island Drive has been a problem for years. Originally owned by Mr. McCrossin’s mother, Olivia, Mr. Banks said she had signed an affidavit admitting she rented her house specifically for weddings and stating she wouldn’t do it in the future.
“For awhile, everything was good,” Mr. Banks said, “ but then it started up again.”
The owners were then contacted and threatened with summonses and fines, Mr. Banks said, but Mr. McCrossin notified Mr. Banks he was “in charge of the property” so the affidavit signed by his mother was moot, a judgment Mr. Banks rejected.
Councilman Paul Shepherd expressed an idea to constantly summon violators such as Mr. McCrossin and put them in front of a magistrate. This would demonstrate a pattern of abuse to the magistrate and the homeowner would soon stop using the property as a party venue.
Mr. Banks said the town code is weak on the issue and “it would be nice to have something ironclad you can cite them on.”
Councilwoman Chris Lewis said it shouldn’t be allowed to go as far as putting people in front of judges. “I’m in favor of preventing it the first place,” she said.
Town Attorney Laury Dowd, who was absent from the work session, had drafted two options to rewrite the town code, one involving the number of vehicles that can be used for parties. But Councilman Peter Reich noted this was full of loopholes, including the option to use tour buses to bring in guests. And in fact, Mr. Dougherty mentioned a woman who is renting the McCrossin property specifically for a wedding and will use school buses to bring guests from the North Fork.
The discussion turned to property owner’s rights to have large parties for weddings, graduations and other occasions. Building Permit Coordinator Mary Wilson told the board, “The problem isn’t ‘Joe Average Homeowner,’” but 89 Ram Island Drive where “there is absolutely no question this is a commercial use.”
Councilman Ed Brown said broadening the discussion when it came to restrictions on short-term rentals was a dangerous path to take, citing many homeowners who rent their places for long weekends.
Resident Janalyn Travis-Messer noted that Shelter Island has been a vacation destination for more than 150 years. “It sounds like you’re trying to make every single rental illegal,” Ms. Travis-Messer said. She noted that there were ordinances already on the books concerning noise and traffic and suggested the board direct Ms. Dowd to look at all state and federal regulations and prepare a brief on the matter.
The board will take up the issue again next week, Mr. Dougherty said.
In other news: Members of the Taylor’s Island Foundation gave a step-by-step presentation on the nine-year, $300,000 effort to restore the historic Smith-Taylor cabin. The restoration, which took a ramshackle and neglected structure and turned into a comfortable and inviting Island showcase is nearly completed. “There is more to do,” Kathy Gooding said, “but the building is structurally sound.”
Ms. Lewis said the restoration was an “incredible feat,” and Mr. Dougherty said the entire project has been “very uplifting.”
Westmoreland resident Jack Conway asked the board to consider efforts to control bamboo on the Island. “Bamboo has a three year plan,” Mr. Conway said. “First year to sleep, second year to creep and the third year to explode.”
Mr. Conway noted bamboo is a menace to native plant species here. Mr. Reich agreed, saying that out-of-control bamboo, when weighted with heavy snow, bends it into roadways causing potential hazards.
The board agreed to put the subject on the agenda of the next Conservation Advisory Council meeting.