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Town Board debates its role on large building projects

COURTESY PHOTO | The Town Board discussed which branch of town government is best suited to rule on large residential projects.
COURTESY PHOTO | The Town Board discussed which branch of town government is best suited to rule on large residential projects.

A review of town-imposed user fees and fines at Tuesday’s Town Board work session turned into a discussion on which branch of town government can best control large scale construction projects.

The review was led by Councilman Peter Reich, and nothing essentially was solved, except, at Councilman Ed Brown’s suggestion that “it’s time that we come out showing we mean business,” the board will vote at a future meeting to raise wetland violations from $5,000 to a maximum of $25,000 or $30,000.

But the board returned to a topic spurred by Brad Tolkin’s plan to build a large house on Charlie’s Lane, which was approved in a split vote Friday after more than two months of discussions.

Councilman Paul Shepherd, who led most of the discussions during the Tolkin hearings, floated his idea once again that some residential buildings should be regulated by size and therefore would be under the jurisdiction of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Mr. Shepherd noted that Shelter Island doesn’t have 50-foot high houses “because we don’t allow it” since the zoning code regulates houses by height.

But Supervisor Jim Dougherty said this was ducking an elected official’s responsibility, saying that accountability comes with the job. The public won’t be able to “punish” the decision makers at the ballot box, he added, for decisions they disagree with because ZBA members are appointed, not elected.

Mr. Shepherd, who voted to approve the Tolkin applications, said if “it had been a zoning issue it’s unlikely it would have prevailed.”

With special permit applications, the Town board is basically saying large scale building projects are permitted. If there was a zoning limit on size in the code, it would be the law, and if the ZBA heard cases

“It would de-politicize the project,” Mr. Shepherd said.

Mr. Reich noted that the ZBA has “more structured guidelines than we do.”

Mr. Dougherty, who was the lone vote against the Tolkin applications, held his ground, praising Mr. Shepherd’s work during the Tolkin discussions, but saying that though he was dissatisfied with the result he was “happy with the process. “

Giving a fundamental issue, the environmental health of the Island “to an appointed board will make us look silly,” the supervisor said.

In other business: Mr. Dougherty raised the idea of forming a “citizens’ helicopter advisory committee” to weigh in on noise issues. Similar committees have been formed in Southold and South Fork towns.

The board seemed to take the position that an appointed committee of seven to nine residents could do no harm, and could help bring pressure to bear where it was most needed to curb helicopter noise.

The board discussed briefly the public hearing Friday on a draft irrigation law, with Mr. Shepherd noting that he had heard some “specifics” in Irrigation Committee member John Hallman’s remarks amid the “general mud slinging.”

Issues such as the size of water cisterns was discussed, with the board commenting on committee member Walter Richard’s suggestion that the tanks be limited to 2,000 gallons.

Mr. Reich said that maximum allowed now is 8,000 gallons, which makes more sense, if the objective is to cut down deliveries of trucked in water to save on the wear and tear of streets and constant disruptions in a neighborhood.

“I’d rather have 10 packages delivered all at once than a package a day,” Mr. Reich said.