It was standing-room-only Tuesday in the Town Hall meeting room, as Judge Helen Rosenblum swore in town officials elected in November.
Two new Town Board members, Jim Colligan and Mary Dudley took places at the table. Mr. Colligan was elected to fill Peter Reich’s seat after Mr. Reich declined to run for a fourth term. Ms. Dudley was appointed by the board to fill out the final year of Ed Brown’s term, when Mr. Brown resigned his post.
Also taking the oath of office were Supervisor Jim Dougherty, reelected to a fifth term in November, Councilman Paul Shepherd, reelected to a second term and Receiver of Taxes Annmarie Seddio and Assessors Quinn Karpeh and BJ Ianfolla.
After the room cleared, the board held it’s yearly organizational meeting, passing resolutions to set dates for meetings, pay bills and appoint employees to town departments.
The board then went into work session, focusing on issues to be dealt with in 2016 and suggesting new tactics.
Councilman Paul Shepherd disagreed with his new colleague, Councilman Colligan’s proposals on two issues — a call for a joint meeting, or two, with the Shelter Island Association (SIA) and a need for affordable housing.
Mr. Colligan, who had been vice president of the SIA before resigning to run for Town Board last autumn, said the “town is so well represented” within the association and meeting with them would “generate a lot of interesting dialogue” and improve communication with residents.
The newly minted councilman asked for input from his colleagues; after an exaggerated sigh, Mr. Shepherd said, “I’m not completely comfortable with that.”
When Mr. Colligan asked him to elaborate, Mr. Shepherd said, “Here I go, first suicide mission of the year.” The councilman then said he didn’t agree that the SIA spoke for all Islanders “or even most [of them]. I’m willing to cooperate with them, but I don’t want to get too bloody cozy with them.”
Mr. Colligan responded that the association was “a powerful group of people” and there was no harm in opening lines of communication. The board would not be “obligated to follow a directive” from the SIA, he added.
“In four years,” Mr. Shepherd said, “I’ve never noticed they had a problem expressing themselves.”
Mr. Colligan said the board should discuss the issue of affordable housing, since many Islanders are worried their town is in danger of “becoming the Hamptons.” Constituents have told him that something must be done about “building big homes in sensitive areas … it’s not about adding more laws, just being more consistent and enforcing what we have on the books.”
When he asked for comment, Mr. Shepherd said, “Oh, yeah. Tee it up,” adding that he was “convinced that the sensitivity isn’t so much in the environment as it is in people’s heads.”
He was conflicted on the issue and was trying to “ferret out my own motivations to keep myself honest.”
Most environmental issues associated with building on the Island have been addressed, Mr. Shepherd said. He questioned whether restricting the sizes of houses was merely “to show rich people who’s boss. I really don’t now.”
Mr. Colligan said the idea of affordable housing for the young and elderly, who are being priced out of the real estate market, is essential.
Planning board member Emory Briener noted that homeowners with large houses pay taxes that “subsidize smaller houses,” but
Mr. Colligan responded that if the trend of more expensive homes continues, eventually there will be “no school district, no kids, no young people.”
Mr. Shepherd agreed that those with big tax bills can “help finance affordability for the rest of us.”
Also discussed was the proliferation of Airbnbs — unregulated gust houses — which, Mr. Dougherty said, can change the character of the Island, but are also financial boosts for smaller homeowners.
Happy Birthday, Mary Madden: At the last meeting of the Town Board on December 30, a proclamation was read declaring December 25, 2015 “Ms. Mary Madden Day” to commemorate the 100th birthday of Ms. Madden, and honor her as a person “who has achieved such a great age and who will always declare Shelter Island to be her family homestead for her whole family, including her three children, 10 grand children and 24 great grandchildren.”