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Town Board narrowing focus on short-term rentals

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO The Town Board at it work session Tuesday. From left, Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar, Councilwoman Mary Dudley, Councilman Jim Colligan, Supervisor Jim Dougherty, Coucilman Paul Shepherd. Not shown, Councilwoman Chris Lewis.

The Town Board at it work session Tuesday. From right, Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar, Councilwoman Mary Dudley, Councilman Jim Colligan, Supervisor Jim Dougherty, Coucilman and Paul Shepherd. Not shown, Councilwoman Chris Lewis.

At its Tuesday work session, the Town Board moved from theorizing on how to restrict short-term rentals to concrete proposals to draft legislation.

Specific restrictions on licensing, advertising and signage, the number guests and how many times a homeowner can host guests within a calendar year were put in writing and distributed to board members.

The proposals were the work of Councilman Jim Colligan and Councilwoman Mary Dudley, who have taken the lead to hammer out a consensus among their colleagues on new legislation.

The board has discussed the issue for months, with several homeowners telling the board they’ve been offering online 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.

The new proposals outlined by Mr. Colligan and Ms. Dudley drew fire from audience members who said it would cripple Island businesses across the board, but especially the hotels and established bed and breakfast establishments. They heard again from a resident who said restrictions would force many homeowners to leave because renting rooms is key to paying their bills.

One issue raised at several meetings in the past is a trend of people buying houses on the Island to use them solely as rentals gained traction Tuesday. Town Assessor BJ Ianfolla gave the board a list 110 of houses purchased from 2012 to 2015 that went straight to rentals, Ms. Ianfolla said.

Mr. Colligan’s written proposal claims it’s necessary to restrict the short-term rental market because “residential neighborhoods need to be protected” and year-round residential housing has been diminished due to the proliferation of sort-term stays. It noted that new restrictions on private rentals “would level the playing field” with hotel and B&Bs and would keep the Island’s character as “a family friendly island that values its quality of life charm.”

Ms. Dudley emphasized that the proposed legislation would be for “non-owner occupied short term vacation rentals,” and would include licensing; all advertising would include registry and licensing information; and a “good neighbor brochure” outlining community standards that renters would have agree to. In addition, the number of guests permitted in rentals would be based on the number of bedrooms. Several formulas for limits on the number of times hosts could rent to guests in the calendar year was open for discussion but no agreement was reached.

Chuck Kraus, as he has before, said proposed limits on short-term rentals would be a serious blow to Island businesses, noting that 50 percent of business owners are against legislation, according to a recent Shelter Island Association poll. Mr. Kraus said that the board originally took up the issue in June because it was concerned with bad behavior on the part of renters. But, he said, there had been only two disturbance calls.

“Why, for two calls are you going though all this?” Mr. Kraus added.

Mr. Colligan said many people don’t phone the police about bad behavior. He added that it wasn’t just about disturbances, but other issues, such as water usage were involved. Mr. Kraus countered that the houses would be occupied no matter if they were rented.

Resident Jeff Lederman agreed. Telling the board that he and his family, who have a residence in Brooklyn, want to live here full-time eventually. But they must rent their residence occasionally, as he and his wife Jennifer told the board in July, “to own it.”

At the July meeting, Ms. Lederman said they had a four-adult maximum and an age minimum for renters, and turned away 90 percent of the requests to rent.

They had no problem with almost all the restrictions discussed, Mr. Lederman told the board Tuesday, including registering and getting a license, but urged the board not to restrict the number of times they could rent their home on a sort-term basis.

Sherry — who didn’t give her last name — said she is a manager of the Dering Harbor Inn, and short-term rentals has “really hurt” the bottom line. May 15 to September 15 “is our bread and butter “ and this summer “it has really been down.” She said she could provide the board with figures on the down turn. It wasn’t fair that the Inn had to abide by many rules and regulations to operate, she added, while un-regulated homeowners did not.

The issue will be on the agenda for next week’ work session, the board agreed, for further discussion of Mr. Colligan’s and Mrs. Dudley’s proposals.

During the meeting, Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he was a believer in “KISS, or keep it simple, stupid.”

Also in the midst of the meeting, Councilman Paul Shepherd said that when the board agreed on a draft of legislation and presented it at a public hearing, he advised participants to “put on your flame-retardant suits.”