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Town Board: Water quality referendum on tap for November

COURTESY PHOTO | The Town Board met in work session Tuesday.
COURTESY PHOTO | The Town Board met in work session Tuesday.

At Tuesday’s Town Board work session the members began the process of drafting a referendum for November’s ballot on improving the Island’s water quality.

The referendum would ask voters to approve or turn down taking up to 20 percent of money going into Shelter Island’s Community Preservation Fund (CPF) for water quality programs.

The CPF is funded by a 2 percent tax on real estate purchases in the five East End towns and has been used only for open space purchases.

A law was passed and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last December allowing towns to use CPF funds for water projects — if approved by a local referendum — but now, Supervisor Jim Dougherty said, a new bill is pending in Albany amending last year’s legislation, or as he noted, “it’s going back for repairs.”

One important new provision in the bill is that “a regional coordinating authority” would be introduced to manage the fund’s water quality allotments.

The projects to be funded by a portion of CPF money collected, if approved by the voters, would include:
• Wastewater treatment improvements.
• Aquatic habitat restoration.
• Pollution prevention.
• Operation of the Peconic Bay National Estuary Program.

A subcommittee of the Town Board consisting of Mr. Dougherty, Councilwoman Mary Dudley, Town Attorney Laury Dowd, Town Assessor BJ Ianfolla and Town Engineer John Cronin is drafting suggestions for the Island’s plan on implementing the projects.

Ms. Dowd said the board must act with a vote on the plan by late August in order to put it on the ballot in November.

In other business, the board discussed the proliferation of Airbnbs on the Island. Mr. Dougherty noted that other towns have enacted legislation on the short-term rentals requiring registration and inspections, but he was not “advocating legislation at all. I’m just introducing it for discussion.”

The board seemed to agree with Councilwoman Chris Lewis’ suggestion that the “best solution is to watch it quietly evolve” since it was a case of “starting to think about a problem that may not exist.”

The topic of site plan review, or legislation requiring commercial properties to file specific plans with the Town Board and then undergo a review, was discussed briefly. The topic arose several weeks ago because of complaints of unsightly commercial uses of properties on Route 114, which Mr. Dougherty has said, “is becoming an eyesore.”

Ms. Lewis suggested that the Planning Board research and present to the Town Board information on how other municipalities’s handle site plan review. Mr. Dougherty said he had been in touch with Planning Board Chairman Paul Mobius who “wasn’t at all enthusiastic about site plan review,” preferring to keep the Planning Board’s special permit process in place.

The Planning Board Tuesday night agreed to weigh in on commercial site plan reviews after its attorney, Anthony Pasca, said he could think of no other municipality that didn’t require them. The value, he told members, is in establishing needs for parking, drainage, lighting and engineering aspects of a project.

At Tuesday’s work session, Town Board members left the subject open for further discussion.

Mr. Dougherty reported that Moody’s, the financial and investor service, had given the Island a clean bill of health, quoting the service as reporting that the town’s “credit position is very strong” with a “solid tax base” and “extremely small debt liability.”

Moody’s assessed the town’s full value at $3 billion.