03/06/13 8:34am

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | The Shelter Island Town Board resumed its ongoing discussions on raising user fees.

The Town Board returned to the topic of raising certain user fees at its Tuesday work session, an issue the board has discussed for the last several weeks.

Philosophical differences were aired, especially when it came to raising building fees on garages, with Councilman Paul Shepherd noting that in his view too many roadblocks are put before tax payers that will be counter productive in the long run.

“I don’t like when we look at an improvement as an encumbrance,” Mr. Shepherd said at one point, referring to imposing charges on homeowners to build a garage. “We should encourage people to enhance the value of their property.”

Last week the board heard recommendations from Building Inspector William Banks about user fees on new garage construction. Following up on that Tuesday, Councilman Peter Reich suggested a flat building department fee on garages of $250 plus 25 cents on every square foot over 1,000 square feet. Currently there’s a charge of 25 cents a square foot on new garage construction and no flat fee.

Later the discussion turned to how much time and effort building department employees would expend examining new garages, but Mr. Shepherd said that was missing the point. “You’re looking at it strictly from the revenue side,” he said.

Councilwoman Christine Lewis made the point that money has to be found somewhere. “You have to understand that taxes are the revenue steam which drive services to a town,” Ms. Lewis said.

“I have to understand that” Mr. Shepherd said. “Well, thank you, because I was unaware of that.”

Further, he said the item under discussion wasn’t a tax issue but a fee issue.

Later in the discussion, Mr. Shepherd said, with some resignation, “As taxpayers we all know we’re going to get milked. I’m just saying, ‘A little respect. Warm your hands a little.’”

Councilwoman Lewis and Supervisor Jim Dougherty were in basic agreement with Mr. Reich’s proposal on garage fees and Mr. Shepherd seemed, with reluctance, to sign off on the idea. Councilman Ed Brown was absent.

On other agenda items Supervisor Dougherty reported that The Peconic Land Trust had turned down an offer to take over the so-called “open ” area of the Paard Hill horse farm and the town, which also has an opportunity to take stewardship of the open space, will turn it down as well. Since there’s no public access allowed in the sale agreement for Paard Hill, there’s no benefit to the town to take on the responsibilities of maintenance and insurance.

By agreement there can be no commercial entity at Paard Hill, and no subdivision of the property.

It boils down to “reduction in usage with no expense to the town,” Mr. Dougherty said.

Highway Department Superintendent Jay Card told the board that grinding services were needed for vegetative material, including tree stumps, brush and leaf piles brought to the Recycling Center. The Town Board convened a special meeting Tuesday to pass a resolution authorizing the department to seek bids from companies for the grinding services to run through 2015 with an option to extend the contract through 2016.

02/15/13 2:00pm

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Sources say the controversial Paard Hill horse farm sale is a done deal.

A deal is done to sell Paard Hill horse farm, according to a person close to the negotiations.

But not so fast, said Christopher Kent of the Bridgehampton office of the law firm Farrell Fritz, representing the sellers, Pieter Ruig and Ellen Lear.

“There’s an interested party and we’re waiting for some of the conditions to be satisfied prior to a commitment to close on the property,” Mr. Kent said.

The attorney and the person knowledgeable about the deal wouldn’t say who was ready to purchase the 36-acre property on Ram Island Road. Paard Hill has been described as a four-star hotel for horses, with padded floors and water fountains in many of the 23 stalls with water views.

But Mr. Kent said the sale price would be lower than the original asking price of $8 million.

The last hitch to the deal seems to hang on a decision from the Peconic Land Trust, which by agreement has a right of first refusal along with the town to take over a so-called “open” parcel in the Paard Hill package, or about 28.5- acres. The remaining 7.65-acres has a single-family house.

A  2012 declaration imposes a covenant on the property requiring the open section to be donated to either the Town of Shelter Island or the PLT after the deaths of both Mr. Ruig and Ms. Lear or  if they subdivide and sell the property’s residential component. The declaration prohibits any future use of the equine facility as a commercial operation.

The present deal calls for no further subdivision of the property, according to sources, and the new buyer can use the “open area” for private “equestrian of pedestrian purposes.”

The person with knowledge of the negotiations said PLT is not interested in buying the parcel.

John Halsey, president of the PLT, said in a statement that the organization had not “received a formal offer regarding donation to the Trust of the Paard Hill open area, over which we hold a perpetual conservation easement.”

The Town Board’s work session agenda for Tuesday includes a discussion of the “Paard Hill open area.”

The Lear-Ruig application to open a commercial horse farm in a residential zone touched off a storm of protest when first proposed. The board granted a special exception use permit to allow it in August 2000.

Run originally as an equestrian business, it hasn’t been a commercial venture for some time.

11/30/12 6:00am

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | The Paard Hill horse farm on Ram Island Road.

A legal document filed in January with the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office prohibits a commercial horse farm at Paard Hill if owners Peter Ruig and Ellen Lear sell the property or die.

Titled only “Declaration,” it fulfills a pledge they made to the town Appeals Board more than 12 years ago that — once all litigation over their property was settled and all pending permits for the horse farm and its structures had been granted — they would draft a legal document restricting it to residential-only use after their ownership.

The Lear-Ruig application to open a commercial horse farm in a residential zone touched off a storm of protest. The board granted a special exception use permit to allow it in August 2000.

The 2012 declaration imposes a covenant on the property requiring the 36-acre horse farm to be donated to either the Town of Shelter Island or the Peconic Land Trust after the deaths of both Mr. Ruig and Ms. Lear, or — if they subdivide and sell the property’s 8-acre residential component, which they reserve the right to do — prohibiting any future use of the 28.5-acre equine facility as a commercial operation.

Earlier this week, Supervisor Jim Dougherty announced at a Town Board work session that there was a potential buyer for the property who wanted to operate the horse farm. He and Town Attorney Laury Dowd commented that, in the event of any sale, the horse farm had to be offered to the town or the Peconic Land Trust if a new owner did not want to operate the horse farm.

The supervisor later said the right that Lear-Ruig Partners had won to operate the commercial horse farm “runs with the land” and would not be extinguished if they sold it.

The “Declaration” was filed as part of a settlement involving a lawsuit filed 12 years ago by several neighbors.