More than 200 people showed up at a public hearing in the school auditorium Friday on the Town Board’s effort to regulate short-term rentals.
About 35 people addressed the board in 3-minute segments, and it broke almost evenly for those who were against certain proposed regulations and those who want the board to toughen a draft law by imposing time limits for stays and the number of times a year a property can be rented.
Shelter Island is the only town on the East End without a minimum-stay provision in its rental laws.
The most surprising take-away from the hearing, in addition to the number of people who packed the auditorium on a mid-winter evening and the evenly divided points of view, was the civility and mutual respect the participants — with one or two exceptions — showed each other and the board.
Issues that have been aired before the board and in the letters section of the Reporter since spring 2016 were again on display, with arguments that with the proliferation of online rental sites, such as airbnb, the Island has become a party destination for weekenders. Those calling for more regulations repeated the fear that short-term rentals in the era of online bookings will alter the character of Shelter Island as a family-friendly place. They were countered by those opposed to resections who maintained the rentals allow families to remain here by helping defray steep mortgages and related costs and therefore preserve the character of the Island.
Threats of litigation against the town were discussed, with several residents warning the board that infringing property rights is illegal, and were challenged on that score by those insisting that limiting rentals is well within the law.
Also at issue was the notion that a person renting their house on a short-term basis throughout the summer was turning residential areas into commercial zones, but there were those who said in-house small businesses are all over the Island, that it is a tradition here, and has been operating without controversy for years.
Also, the threat of speculators buying properties here solely to rent on a short-term basis was discussed, and the consequence for the future of the Island if this is happening or will in the future.
The draft law at the moment calls for:
- Licensing by the town with proof that owners have been registered with Suffolk County for tax purposes and can produce a letter from their insurers showing that guests are covered in the event of any accidents on the property
- Occupancy of a rental shall not exceed two persons per conventional bedroom
- Provide guests with a handbook to familiarize them with limits to noise or overcrowding as well as water concerns on the Island
- require advertisements of short-term rentals to list the registration numbers and information about maximum occupancies
- Exempt rentals that provide permanent homes for tenants
- Exempt existing hotels and bed & breakfast establishments already covered by other ordinances.
The complete draft legislation is on the town’s website at shelterislandtown.us; click on “Town Topics” and “Upcoming Hearings & Law.’
The Town Board work session scheduled for Tuesday at 1 p.m. at Town Hall has an agenda item titled: “Short-term rental post hearing discussion.”
The Reporter will have more on the public hearing and the board’s work session in subsequent posts and in its Thursday print edition.