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Town Board hears more on short-term Internet rentals

Airbnbs have proliferated on Shelter Island over the past two summers.
Airbnbs have proliferated on Shelter Island over the past two summers.

Cooler heads prevailed at the Town Board work session when the contentious issue of airbnbs —unregulated short-term rentals booked over the Internet — was once again on the agenda.

The issue has drawn fire from residents who maintain that “party houses” are proliferating on the Island due to the short-term Internet bookings, with loud music and drunken and obnoxious behavior occurring day and night in once peaceful neighborhoods.

They’ve been countered at Town Hall by those who have said summer rentals — either short or long term — are a significant part of their income, helping them to stay in their homes by accommodating well-behaved families and couples who contribute to the overall Island economy during the summer months. Resident Craig Woods told the Town Board Tuesday that renting rooms in private houses has been a time-honored Island tradition.

Councilwoman Mary Dudley and Councilman Jim Colligan came up with practical measures to add to or replace elements of draft legislation written by Town Attorney Laury Dowd. The draft calls for, among several other provisions, registration and licensing; the houses must be owner occupied; rules for parking and advertising; and a $1,000 fine for a first offense, $5,000 for a second offense and $7,500 for each subsequent offense.

Ms. Dudley said she had researched other communities that have come up with solutions to problems with short-term rentals, especially one town that accommodated many students renting rooms or houses during spring break. One solution is that if the premises are not owner occupied, there must be a designated representative who will be available at all times to field complaints from neighbors. There also must be “a good neighbor” brochure provided to guests to inform them of community standards.

Mr. Colligan had several suggestions, including devising a formula for the number of bedrooms and number of guests and in the educational brochure, specific recommendations on water usage.

Any new legislation has to be “simple, enforceable and fair,” Mr. Colligan said.

The controversy over airbnsbs surfaced in November when then Building Permits Coordinator Mary Wilson noted that there were 77 listings on airbnb.com on the Island — there are now many more — and that the lion’s share were breaking the law by providing rooms for guests with no licensing or inspections.

This summer the battle was joined. At Tuesday’s work session, a resident of Sylvan Road said it was a simple matter of cracking down on property owners who were operating commercial operations in residentially zoned areas. The resident also mentioned that nearly every community on Long Island was enacting legislation to deal with unregulated short-term rentals.

Councilwoman Chris Lewis said a beefed up noise ordinance and a “disturbing the peace” clause in the town code would go a long way to solving problems. Mr. Woods, who said he has rented his house for income, agreed, adding that hiring a code enforcement officer should be discussed.

Resident Jimbo Theinert, a teacher at Shelter Island School, said he and his wife, Mary, had tried to rent rooms in their house through Island realtors but were unsuccessful. The Theinerts noted that most people now rely on the Internet to make bookings. Renting space in their house to guests has allowed them to stay on the Island, Mr. Theinert. Since March, the couple have welcomed 30 groups, or about 50 guests.

They were usually on site when renting their place, but not always, and have had no problems.
Supervisor Jim Dougherty said more discussion will take place, but no new legislation on the issue will occur before Labor Day.

“We’ll proceed deliberately,” Mr. Dougherty said, adding that “a working group” will be formed to look into airbnbs and the town’s response to the phenomenon.

In other business: The town is sponsoring a blood drive, along with Long Island Blood Services (LIBS), on Tuesday July 26, from 2 to 8 p.m. at the EMS Building on Mawaring Road. LIBS Account Manager Lisa Lee said every donor will receive a coupon for a McDonald’s sandwich, or a salad. Ms. Lee said that the LIBS hasn’t run blood drives on the East End recently because of the fear of babiosis, a tick borne illness.

But now, every pint of blood will be tested for the disease and donors who have contracted it will be informed. Blood is in short supply during summer months, Ms. Lee said, since high school and college students are on vacation and they account for more than 28 percent of donors

Those who wish to donate blood should call Judy Meringer at (631) 749-0291 to schedule an appointment.

Supervisor Dougherty said that the Passionist Fathers have donated $5,000 to the effort to save the St. Gabriel’s Chapel.