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Shelter Island Reporter Letters to the Editor

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Letter writers continue to debate short-term rentals, many of which are booked over the internet.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO Letter writers continue to debate short-term rentals, many of which are booked over the internet.

Room for all
To the Editor:
Heather Reylek (“Your Letters,” January 5) references 172 listings available on airbnb. This is misleading.

A general “Shelter Island” search on airbnb includes listings on the North/South Forks, not just Island ZIP codes. Unless entering specific dates, the search criteria lists all properties available during the year, even if actual availability is really a couple of weeks, monthly or the off-season. Taking a main concern is “whole house” short-term rentals for three-plus people (two-plus bedrooms), this week airbnb showed the average Island availability as seven properties for a two-night weekend summer rental, increasing to 17 to 20 for a three-night stay, low 30s for a week. Far distant from Ms. Reylek’s 172.

Why initiate a costly registration system to police so little? The more cost added to an owner’s expense in renting, the more that property will need to be rented.

Shouldn’t guests be welcomed for the income they bring to the Island — restaurants, stores, farmer’s markets, the 10K? Income for cleaners and support personnel?

I don’t decry there have been some problem renters, but that could apply to properties rented for the month, and indeed to some homeowners and noisy bar/restaurants. Policing should be of the culprits, not eradication of the market.

Banning short-term rentals will not mean that people will stay in hotels. Some possibly, but most wouldn’t consider a hotel as a viable alternative for either ambiance or financial reasons.

Pick the arbitrary weekend of July 21-24. Earlier this week airbnb showed 19 properties available (74 bedrooms or 3.9 bedrooms per property). The average rate was $632/per night, $1,896 for three nights. The cheapest hotel room is $300-plus per night plus charges — 3.9 bedrooms for three nights would cost over $3,500 before taxes, plus additional costs of dining, drinks, etc. A substantial difference.

Vacationers seeking monthly rentals are a much smaller market. Restricting rentals to longer terms will increase competition in this smaller pool. Prices will be lowered — that would attract more of a party crowd.

These houses mostly would not be available for full-time rental. Properties are available when the owners are not in residence.

They are also not in the affordable housing sector.

Parties should respect divergent views, but there should be room for all. Bureaucracy always costs more than anticipated and it’s introduction helps no one.
Shelter Island

Protect the community
To the Editor:
We’re hearing a lot lately about the advent/intrusion of short-term rentals — there’s a lot of noise and   both sides seem to be talking past each other. What exactly is happening?

First, short-term rentals have become a major business and communities nationwide are learning how to cope with the new problems that come with this new business model.

Investors, most likely outsiders, have spread the word that you can buy a “reasonably priced” property and make a good bit of money renting to the short-term market. This is an easy, and seemingly foolproof way of picking up rental income to pay for a second, third and maybe fourth home.

Don’t worry about neighbors’ complaints about your tenants. You probably live in or near New York and use one of the new services that promise to take care of all the tiresome details of home ownership while you go about your pleasant, well-financed life, miles away from your unhappy neighbors. You know you don’t need their friendship or respect; you are in the business of making money and owning property. Not the time to be sentimental.

This brings us to the core issue. Every time an investor decides to enter the short-term rental business, there is one less home available for our own townspeople, the people who keep the EMS, Fire Department and other key services running. One by one, houses that were available for people with modest incomes are being snapped up by folks looking to make as much money as possible, essentially at the expense of our community.

The real question is where are our values? Do we want to maintain a healthy community for people of all income levels or are we saying it’s more important to help hungry investors make greater profits.

I would propose we consider a law to manage this intrusion as follows: Set up a register of owners seeking to be active in short-term rentals, but restrict it to no more than four-to-six times a year and limited to owner-occupied homes. We should limit it to 20 homes in the first year, with a review of it’s success or failure. Priority to get approval for short-term rentals should go to homeowners who are active participants in community services, such as EMS and the Fire Department.

It’s time we stepped up to protect our community.
Shelter Island

To the Editor:
I read with amazement and dismay the weekly advertisement in your newspaper titled, “Support Short-Term Rentals.” We are all entitled to our opinions, but not to our version of the facts.

Let’s examine the advertisement in question — here are four series of “Ad Opinion” and the “Factual Reply”:
Ad Opinion 1: “STR’s [short-term rentals] positively increase your property value.”

Factual Reply 1: Short-term rentals commercialize Shelter Island and promote multi-family, non-private and transient living, allowing for commercial uses in residential zones. This undermines our quality of life by promoting transient neighbors, with larger home densities and increased use of natural resources, all leading to a decrease in property values.

Ad Opinion 2: “Tourist Islands within 100 miles of Shelter Island have no short-term rental regulations: Fisher’s Island, Nantucket Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island, Fire Island.”

Factual Reply 2: Shelter Island is a 4-minute ferry ride from the Hamptons transient lifestyle, and is the only town in the area that does not have short-term rental regulations; thus, promoting and inviting short-term rentals to the Island, as the Island is the weakest link in the chain of the surrounding communities.

Ad Opinion 3: “Your tax dollars will pay for a full-time enforcement officer, spyware, lawsuit, etc.… to over-regulate a non-issue. Do you want a tax increase?”

Factual Reply 3: Tax dollars are based on the budget and priorities of the electorate and Town Board. Should we decrease the police, following the logic of the ad, this would help decrease taxes and over-regulation.

Ad Opinion 4: Regulating short-term rentals is illegal, and violates property rights as well as many federal housing and civil rights laws.

Factual Reply 4: Completely wrong! The Supreme Court of the United States and Court of Appeals of New York have issued many decisions to the contrary — regulation of property, such as zoning, use and rental terms are legal. Reasonable regulation protects the community and promotes quality of life.

The people of Shelter Island have to decide — do we live our lives on what happened “over 150 years” ago on Shelter Island” [as the Ad states], or on what majority of the homeowners on the Island want today, which is to protect the quality of life of ensuring non-transient, single-family homes, and not promoting commercial uses in residential zones.
Shelter Island

Another idea
To the Editor:
I read with much interest (“Fear for their future,” January 12) Julia Labrozzi, Olivia Yeaman and Nicolette Frasco’s concerns about their future ability to find affordable housing on our Island; the implications for the school system; and services in general.

It is true that without affordable housing we will not have a viable future as a community!

Although Councilman Paul Shepherd said that “ultimately it’s about money,” we should distinguish between money and equity.

Although land is certainly more expensive now than in the past, the main problem with past attempts to provide affordable housing in the mid-1990s was that they did not limit equity. This is the same issue faced by the New York State Mitchell Lama Program for middle-class housing. After a set number of years, apartment and/or home owners can sell at market value.

There are alternate models such as community land trusts (CLTs) that attempt to keep homes permanently affordable  — non-profits own and lease the land — while providing a limited opportunity for lower-income homeowners to build wealth.

Successful CLTs exist in Boston as well as Burlington, Vermont and are being studied for applicability in New York City.  These models might prove interesting to the Town Board as well as to the senior government class at Shelter Island High School.
Shelter Island

To the Editor:
Last week’s Reporter’s front page photo of youngsters sledding with carefree abandon down Goat Hill, accompanied by their dog Shelby, brought back winter memories for generations of Shelter Islanders.

Shelter Island Country Club at Goat Hill, with close to the highest elevation on the Island, and thanks to the wide open fairways, is great for sledding, boarding, skiing and even snowmobiling when the snow comes. Attack the hills and fairways, but we ask everyone avoid our greens — marked by the flagpoles — since today’s winter sports equipment, and even just walking across them this time of the year, can cause serious damage to this important part of the golf course. Be careful and enjoy the hills and fairways at Goat Hill in the wintertime. Let it snow!
President, Shelter Island Country Club Board of Directors