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Board wrestles with ‘wedding house’ issue

COURTESY PHOTO | To curb owners from renting their properties solely for destination weddings, the Town Board discussed special permits for tents over a certain size.

COURTESY PHOTO | To curb owners from renting their properties solely for destination weddings, the Town Board discussed special permits for tents over a certain size.

On Tuesday the Town Board returned to the issue of individuals using private property for commercial purposes.

The specific issue is short leases used for large parties, especially destination 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.

Tuesday Town Attorney Laury Dowd offered options to amend the town code, one by requiring a special permit for tents over a specific size.

The board also discussed requiring renters to acquire a special permit on short-term leases, or limiting the number of parties held on a property through a season.

But it boiled down to Mr. McCrossin and his property on Ram Island Drive. Building Inspector William Banks and Building Permit Coordinator Mary Wilson both said there was no doubt the McCrossin residence has been advertised and used as a commercial venture for years.

Ms. Dowd said this would be hard to prove if the town ever sued, since compensation is hard to trace, and the property owners can maintain that the renter is a family friend throwing a wedding party.

Resident Janalyn Travis-Messer defended the rights of homeowners to use their property without undue interference from the government, pointing out, as she has before, that Shelter Island has a long reputation as a holiday destination spot and homeowners should be free to rent their properties. And in any event, the town already has ordinances for noise and traffic for outdoor assemblies.

After the meeting, Ms. Travis Messer said she has represented Mr. McCrossin in the past as a real estate agent. She added she has also represented “1,000 homeowners” over the years.

For his part, Mr. McCrossin has written a long letter to the Town Board defending himself, saying his neighbors have portrayed him as “some sort of shameless capitalist” and spread “misguided” impressions about him.

He said he has not attended any of the board meetings because of schedule conflicts and complains about “mischaracterizations” in the Reporter’s coverage.

Mr. McCrossin said he has given a no comment to the Reporter’s request for an interview because speaking on the record “risked inflaming the situation.”

Mr. McCrossin denies breaking any law or code and refutes Mr. Banks’ assertion that his property has, for the past 15 years, been attracting weddings “like filings to a magnet.”

“While I appreciate the homey image,” Mr. McCrossin wrote, “town records will show that this is certainly at best a shameless exaggeration, and at worse, simply untrue.”

An affidavit that Mr. McCrossin’s mother signed admitting the house was rented specifically for weddings, and stating she wouldn’t do it again, has no legal weight, Mr. McCrossin wrote, and was “presented to my mother in a manner I believe was inappropriately coercive.”

His letter states there will be two weddings in May on the property, “entirely free of charge,” one for an Island couple and the other are “two good friends” whom Mr. McCrossin is giving “the house for the last week of the month as a wedding present.”

Another wedding in September will require all guests to be bussed in and lighting and amplified music concerns will be addressed, Mr. McCrossin said.

In his letter he said he would be free to attend a work session during the third week in March.