Town Board: Commercial 'creep' question may go to ZBA

CARA LORIZ PHOTO | Attorney David Gilmartin asked the Town Board to enforce Shelter Island's zoning laws during Tuesday's work session.

The Town Board may soon send a dispute over a commercial driveway on West Neck Road to the Zoning Board. That issue and the future of dredging Peconic waterways were the main discussion topics at the last meeting of the Shelter Island Town Board in 2010.

During a combined meeting and work session on Tuesday, December 28, the board also adopted a resolution honoring resident Mark B. Griffing, who died on Christmas Eve. Mr. Griffing served in the assessor’s office and as a constable in the 1960s. The resolution marked “the passing of a person who was dedicated to his town in many ways.”

Commercial access on West Neck Road
An attorney for West Neck Road neighbors publicly requested that the town enforce its zoning code and refer construction activities at the Olde Country Inn to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
David Gilmartin of Southampton, who said he represented eight West Neck residents, explained that a residential lot on West Neck Road was recently merged with the Olde Country Inn property, a nonconforming business on Stearns Point Road that predates the residential zone that surrounds it.

“The clearing of that lot, while it doesn’t require a building permit, seems to be an expansion of the use,” Mr. Gilmartin said. A driveway from the inn to West Neck Road was recently cleared and paved with bluestone. “Why would you clear it if you’re not going to use?” Mr. Gilmartin asked.

Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty agreed that the issue should go to the ZBA. He expressed concerns for “the fragile business character” of Shelter Island, saying that nonconforming businesses in residential zones should be “tolerated and accepted,” but he added, “We have to be very, very strict, in my opinion, on any expansions.”

Town Attorney Laury Dowd stated that the burden of enforcing the zoning code is on the Building Department. “The Building Department feels that clearing the lot does not in itself trigger an expansion,” Ms. Dowd said.

If Town Board members disagree, they can ask the Building Department to refer the issue to the ZBA, Ms. Dowd said.

John Sieni, who cleared the driveway, was also in attendance and said that the driveway is “for ingress and egress … Shelter Island has no clearing laws.”
“This is all very pre-emptive,” Mr. Sieni said. If the driveway is used, it will be for temporary parking, he said, not the main corridor to the business. He added that a pool is planned for construction behind the inn. In the meantime, he said, he can raise livestock or build a garage on the property, which is allowed in the residential A zone.

“All of those uses that he mentions are foreclosed by the fact that he merged the lot,” Mr. Gilmartin responded — the lot is now part of the nonconforming business and is not available for residential uses, he indicated.

Those are all good points, Mr. Dougherty said, and should be addressed by the ZBA.

Neighbor Lisa Shaw said that as a homeowner she is troubled by the fact that her property, once flanked by only residential lots, is now adjoined by a nonconforming parcel. “Would anybody want to have … a restaurant or hotel creep into their [residential] zone?”

Mr. Sieni reiterated his main point: “If I just cut a driveway, why do I have to go to the ZBA?”

To clarify the issues, Councilwoman Chris Lewis responded, “before you or any other owner starts investing in plans.”

A new driveway connecting the Olde Country Inn to West Neck Road's residential neighborhood was cut earlier this month.

Dredging issues
The town needs a dredging management plan if it wants county, state and federal officials to move forward on opening up Island waters. That was the news from a Peconic Estuary Program summit on dredging delivered by Cliff Clark of South Ferry Company and Al Loretto of the town’s Waterways Management Advisory Council, who represented Shelter Island at the summit.

A permit to dredge in and around South Ferry’s slips at North Haven is awaiting a town proposal on where the dredge materials will go, they reported. Those materials, previously termed “spoils,” are now considered “renourishment product” — instead of being characterized as a negative environmental impact, dredging is now being seen in terms of environmental opportunities, Mr. Loretto explained.

Identifying the best locations for using the dredge materials is the town’s responsibility, he added, as is prioritizing local waterways for dredging. An overall plan identifying several areas that would benefit from renourishment product — such as Crescent Beach, Shell Beach and Taylor’s Island — would facilitate the permitting of Island dredging, Mr. Clark added.

The dredge summit also addressed ways to increase efficiency in permitting, which includes review by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of State, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency. The dredging is performed by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works from October 1 to January 15 of each year. During that limited window of opportunity, the county puts its one dredge and an additional booster pump system to work on several of 150 active dredging projects. Four of those are located on Shelter Island, Mr. Loretto said, including the one at South Ferry. No Island waterways are expected to be dredged this winter.

“We’re dragging the bottom more often now than last year or the year before,” Mr. Clark said of docking at North Haven.

Board members agreed to have Mr. Loretto draft a proposal naming Shell Beach as a dewatering site for the dredge materials from South Ferry, subject to board approval. They expressed support for WMAC review of dredging issues but did not charge them with developing an overall dredging management plan.

Other actions
During the December 28 meeting the Town Board also awarded contracts for the construction of a 3-foot by 75-foot dock at Daniel Lord Road to Costello Marine for $21,480, and propane and fuel oil for town buildings to Piccozzi Inc. The board also set dog licensing fees at $5 per year (which includes a $1 state surcharge) for spayed or neutered dogs and $15 per year (which includes a $3 surcharge) for other dogs.

The board’s re-organizational meeting is set for January 4, 2011 at 1 p.m.