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Board hammering out ideas for short-term rental law

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO John Reilly, who has used airbnb for short term rentals on his property 15 times this year, spoke before the Town Board Tuesday.
John Reilly, who has used airbnb for short term rentals on his property 15 times this year, spoke before the Town Board Tuesday.

At its Tuesday work session, the Town Board edged closer to writing legislation on short-term rentals.

The board has discussed the issue most of the summer, with some homeowners telling the board they have been offering the rentals to meet expenses, including mortgage and tax payments, in line with a time-honored Island tradition.

But with the proliferation of online rental agencies such as airbnb, the board has heard from other homeowners who say that once quiet neighborhoods have become a haven for “party houses” in spring and summer. Neighbors have complained to the board about noise, overcrowding and boorish behavior day and night.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilwoman Chris Lewis acknowledged the longstanding tradition of Islander’s renting rooms in their homes, but also said the board has “spent a lot of time on worst case scenarios.”

She suggested there would not be a need for homeowners who are present during a short-term rental to be registered or licensed. She also suggested a period of time — May 1 to October 15 — when non-owner occupied residences be registered and limited to two periods of seven-day rentals.

Councilman Jim Colligan, who seems to have built a consensus among his colleagues, said there was agreement, among other items, for a registry of all renters, and licensing of non-owner occupied rentals; all advertising would include registry and licensing information. Supervisor Jim Dougherty interjected to say that any legislation should include that someone renting a cottage on their property, or an adjacent residence they own, would be considered to be occupying the premises.

Mr. Colligan said the board agreed to a “good neighbor brochure” outlining community standards that renters would have to sign off on. Also, violations and penalties should be significant and enforceable.

Councilman Paul Shepherd said he was not in favor of a code enforcement officer, which he described as “a guy walking around looking for trouble.”

But Councilwoman Mary Dudley said that she’s heard “people say they don’t want to police their neighbors.”

Ms. Lewis said the Shelter Island Police Department was “very responsive” to disorderly conduct — “just read the police blotter” — and that she “refuses to accept the premise that we have to do something different.”

The board left a time frame — either a seven or 14-day limit — on non-owner occupied rentals for later discussion. Ms. Dudley said she agreed with Ms. Lewis’ idea of two, seven-day rentals per season.

Resident John Reilly said he and others he’s spoken with are baffled by the board, which in essence is discussing a solution in search of a problem. Mr. Reilly said he used his property for short term rentals 15 times this year, employing airbnb, and has had no problems. He’s been present during all the rentals. The great majority of people visiting Shelter Island aren’t coming to party all night, but for a short, peaceful vacation, or for weddings and funerals. He pays taxes on his rentals, with airbnb informing the IRS of all transactions.

The extra income he gets is vital to him and other renters he knows, he said. The suggestion, which has been made before the board, that people are purchasing houses on the Island with the sole intention of using them for short-term rentals, is ludicrous, Mr. Reilly said.

Phil DiOrio weighed in, noting that the board should be aware that unregulated short-term rentals are often a commercial venture in a residential zone. He called for limits on non-owner occupied rentals within the calendar year.

Mr. DiOrio countered Mr. Reilly’s opinion that people were not owning homes to use them for short-term rentals. He said there was an emerging “business model” of owning homes on the Island to do just that.

Town Assessor Quinn Karpeh said from the audience that he’s noticed that several residences recently purchased in the $1 million range have been advertised as seasonal rentals for up to $80,000.

Mr. Dougherty asked Town Attorney Laury Dowd to draft a preliminary law to provide an outline for further discussion.

In other business: Friends and family of Alma B. Ryder packed Town Hall on September 16 as the Town Board voted to declare September 22, 2016 a special day on Shelter Island, honoring Ms. Ryder on her 100th birthday.

An Island resident her entire life, Ms. Ryder couldn’t attend the ceremony. She is honored in a proclamation that noted she is a “model citizen” who “performed a multitude of jobs ranging from telephone operator to personal secretary, with many other in between.”

In another proclamation, the board declared October 15, 2016 as “Pink Day” on Shelter Island to honor National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The proclamation also noted a state law passed three years ago making it mandatory that women with dense breasts be notified by the medical profession of their condition for possible diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

The Island’s Theresa Montant, who died of breast cancer, was instrumental in drafting and lobbying for the state law. Her husband, Towny Montant, continues the effort for early detection and treatment of breast cancer. In its proclamation, the

Town Board urged all citizens to wear pink on October 16.

The board also passed a resolution for new stop signs and crosswalks in the Heights. A new stop sign will be erected at the intersection of Bay Avenue and Grand Avenue and one will be placed at the Chequit triangle on Waverly Avenue and Grand Avenue.

New crosswalks will be painted at Grand Avenue near Bay Avenue and one at Grand Avenue near the intersection with Waverly Place.

At Tuesday’s work session, Police Chief Jim Read said he would give a presentation to the board on October 4 on traffic studies done on St. Mary’s Road, New York Avenue and other Island roadways.