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Dougherty cautions against joining ‘failed communities around us’

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Supervisor Jim Dougherty is the lone vote on the Town Board against a 14-day minimum for short-term rentals.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty is the lone vote on the Town Board against a 14-day minimum for short-term rentals.

Shelter Island is moving toward joining the other East End towns in placing a two-week minimum on short-term rentals (STRs.)

Councilmen Paul Shepherd and Jim Colligan along with Councilwomen Chris Lewis and Amber Brach-Williams said they preferred imposing a 14-day minimum when Mr. Shepherd polled them at the Town Board work session Tuesday as the board discussed a draft of legislation on the issue. Shelter Island is the only East End town with no STR law.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty is alone in opposing a 14-day limit, and prefers a one-week minimum stay for STRs.

Near the end of the discussion, Mr. Dougherty referred to his nearly two-decade career in town affairs, dedicated, he said, “to trying to keep Shelter Island as a rising star on the hill.” He questioned why his colleagues were “rushing to emulate the slapdash laws of the failed communities around us … The current draft, if we go with 14 days, we’re going to start the ball rolling towards becoming a senior elite community of high income people.”

The debate about regulating STRs has been aired before the board since the spring of 2016. It was spurred by the proliferation of online rental sites, such as airbnb, which some say has turned parts of the Island into a destination for loud,  all-weekend parties. Those calling for more regulations fear that STRs, in the era of online bookings, will alter the character of Shelter Island as a family-friendly place.

They are countered by those who don’t want restrictions, noting that STRs allow young families to remain on the Island by helping defray steep mortgages and related costs, and also boost the Island’s tourist economy. “If we go with 14 days, we’re inadvertently dealing a blow to affordable housing,” Mr. Dougherty said earlier in the meeting, arguing that it’s wrong to put strict limitations on young families who must rent their homes to afford mortgages.

Less restrictive rental minimums “gives young folks and those with moderate incomes a chance to survive on Shelter Island,” Mr. Dougherty said.

Mr. Shepherd disagreed. “I just haven’t seen who we’re saving,” the councilman said. “Who are these people who have a second home to rent out in its entirety? Why am I helping them?”

After further discussion on another aspect of the draft law, separate from time limits, Mr. Dougherty said,  “We have to make a decision.”

Mr. Shepherd said he was trying to come to a decision as the supervisor laughed.

“I fail to see the humor in this at this stage of the game,” Mr. Shepherd said.

Mr. Dougherty said no one was laughing, and laughed again.

“What’s funny about it?” Mr. Shepherd asked, his voice rising. “We’ve danced around this long enough,” and then added he was in favor of 14 days and asked his colleagues their opinions. All except Mr. Dougherty agreed.

The draft law has no provision for exceptions to a time limit, except that homeowners can rent their property for shorter stays within the limit. For example, under a 14-day limit, homeowners could rent their properties two weekends a month and comply with the law.

A tentative public hearing on the draft legislation is scheduled for April 7. After the board votes, the law could be in effect by May, Ms. Lewis said after the meeting. Part