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Board finalizing rental regulations

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

The Town Board returned again to the issue of regulating short term rentals at its work session Tuesday, discussing in detail a draft of proposed legislation. The draft was not made public, so specific items the board referred to such as page numbers or sections, left many residents attending the meeting in the dark on what was being discussed.

Town Attorney Laury Dowd, who drafted the legislation, and the Town Board, refused the Reporter’s request to view the draft before or after the meeting, as they did last week when draft legislation was discussed by the board.

A call to the Committee on Open Government in Albany Wednesday morning confirmed that the Town Board, in denying these drafts, is violating the Open Meetings law.

Kristin O’Neill, a staff member with the Committee on Open Government, referred to Section 103(e) of the Open Meetings law requiring that draft proposals of legislation being discussed in open session must be made available prior to or at the meeting at which they are being discussed to the extent practicable.

This amendment to the Open Meetings Law took effect February 2, 2012, and provides for two types of records that must be made available:

• Information that can be obtained by a Freedom of Information request
• Information on proposed resolutions, laws, rules, regulations, policies or amendments to such documents.

Regulating homeowners who rent for short periods of time while they are absent has been the subject of debate before the board since May. The matter originally came to the board’s attention from residents complaining about weekend renters making life miserable for neighbors through all-night partying and boorish behavior. Those residents demanded action to regulate the short-term rental situation, which has grown due to online rental companies.

But people renting their homes on a short-term basis maintained at nearly every board meeting that they are following a time-honored Island tradition, and the income from renters is necessary for many people to keep their homes.

The debate changed over time, from a quality of life issue to a so-called “commercialization” of residential neighborhoods, and reports of speculators buying up houses solely to rent them, which will, opponents say, negatively change the Island.

The board has discussed limiting the number of times a non-owner-occupied residence can be rented on a short-term basis, the length of occupancy and whether this should only apply to a specific season or year round.

But the new proposed legislation includes no restrictions on length of stay or if it will be restricted to only the summer months.

The draft legislation requires licensing, registration, restrictions on advertising and an enforcement formula. On the latter, Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he had discussed the issue with Police Chief Jim Read, who suggested the town’s assessors could be in charge of enforcing any new legislation.

Councilman Paul Shepherd, who has spoken many times of commercialization of residential neighborhoods due to the proliferation of short term rentals here, told his colleagues Tuesday he was “warning you that I may not be able to vote for this stupid thing.”

Mr. Shepherd prefaced that remark by noting there are people with more than one property who are involved in short-term rentals, and “I’m concerned we’re going to get run over. I don’t know when this train stops … we’re now globally known and advertised.”

He was distressed that people who had initially called for strict regulations have not been part of the debate for months, while those who were opposed to limiting short-term rentals “come in week after week and they fight like hell and they get what they want.”

He accused the board of “folding our tent.” He urged — and was joined by Councilman Jim Colligan — those who are in favor of stricter regulations to come to meetings and make their voices heard.

In other business: Ms. Dowd gave a report on new regulations for MS4, a program to regulate “Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems” required of the states by the federal Clean Water Act. The “systems” include roads, storm drains, pipes and ditches that can transmit pollutants. Municipalities comply with MS4 regulations with the intention of keeping surface waters and aquifers safe.

The new MS4 regulations mandated by the state would require more personnel and funds, Ms. Dowd said and termed some of the new requirements “ridiculous.”

Ms. Dowd said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has put Dering Harbor on a list of “pathogen-impaired” water bodies, even though, Ms. Dowd said, that was “theoretical,” because the harbor would only be impaired if the Shelter Island Heights Property Owners Corporation sewage treatment plant malfunctioned.

Similarly, the DEC, Ms. Dowd said, is “claiming” that Fresh Pond is a “phosphorus-impaired water body even though they put it on a list that the phosphorus impairment is something they intend to study at some future point in time. So it’s not all that clear.”