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Charges, accusations voiced at Town Hall

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO The Town Board at its work session Tuesday. From left, Councilwoman Chris Lewis, Councilman Paul Shepherd, Supervisor Jim Dougherty, Councilman Jim Colligan, Councilwoman Amber-Brach-Williams and Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar.

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO The Town Board at its work session Tuesday. From left, Councilwoman Chris Lewis, Councilman Paul Shepherd, Supervisor Jim Dougherty, Councilman Jim Colligan, Councilwoman Amber-Brach-Williams and Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar.

It turned ugly at Town Hall Tuesday.

During the Town Board’s work session a member used a crude term to describe cowardice and a resident, after accusing board members of “collusion,” and one in particular of hypocrisy, later from the audience told a person speaking at the podium to “sit down and shut up.”

For a few moments after that loud remark, shouts and angry words filled the meeting room.

The subject was the board’s efforts to craft legislation regulating short-term rentals (STRs). The issue has been debated since the spring, but is now moving toward a public hearing on new legislation — the second one on STRs — tentatively scheduled for March 31, to be followed by a vote by the board.

Most people involved in the issue are in agreement on many aspects of the proposed legislation, including: licensing by the town; a rental registry; taxes to be paid to the county; restrictions on occupancy of bedrooms; providing guests with a handbook to familiarize them with limits to noise or overcrowding as well as water concerns on the Island.

But imposing a minimum time limit that homeowners can rent their property — which surrounding towns have on the books — has divided residents and left Supervisor Jim Dougherty opposing his four colleagues on the board.

Through compromises, the board’s majority wants a 14-day minimum stay in the legislation. Mr. Dougherty, as he said Tuesday, is prepared to “grudgingly” accept a one-week minimum. He also asked his colleagues to take “this year to educate ourselves” about the regulation process, reasoning that the board “will know so much more by late summer, and not put in this onerous two-week minimum.”

Councilwoman Christine Lewis said it was time to act, and her three colleagues agreed.

Ms. Lewis said it has been “nine months that I’ve been listening to everybody. I’m perfectly content with two weeks.” She added that homeowners, under the proposed law, would be allowed to rent for any length of time within the two weeks.

“I don’t think that’s terribly limited,” she said.

Mr. Dougherty spoke passionately Tuesday about the consequences of legislating a two-week minimum, saying it would hurt young families and people of moderate income who rent their homes to pay mortgages and taxes. He also compared a proposal to hire a code enforcement officer to handle violations of the law to the Gestapo. Code enforcement, he added, in addition to being costly, would make Shelter Island a “police state.”

The supervisor spoke of a code enforcement officer in East Hampton, whom he didn’t name, who told him about a quota of violations given to officers in East Hampton that they must book to generate income.

Councilman Jim Colligan chided Mr. Dougherty for employing “scare tactics,” and that paying for code enforcement could be offset by licensing fees and not by taxpayers. Mr. Dougherty said he was stating facts.

Both sides say that the lack of affordable housing is tied to the issue of STRs, and the supervisor referred several times to a Community Housing Board forum scheduled for March 27 to hear resident’s views on this subject. He was miffed that he had to read about the meeting in the Reporter, he said, and, paraphrasing Franklin D. Roosevelt, noted that a scheduled public hearing on STRs will occur just a few days after the forum, making it “a week that will live in infamy.”

“We’ll all go to that forum,” he continued, ‘‘and we’ll all nod our heads at the right time and say the right things about affordable housing, but it sounds like the way you’re talking, five days later you’ll deliver two or three devastating blows to affordable housing.” He said his colleagues point of view would “appease the ‘richies.’”

Later he said the forum and the public hearing will be a week of “hypocrisy” that will “cripple affordable housing.”

The supervisor referred to a mass emailing that board members have received that said if members don’t vote for a two-week minimum, the senders of the email won’t vote for them when members are up for re-election, Mr. Dougherty said his colleagues had agreed to a two-week minimum after receiving the emails, but he had refused “to knuckle under.”

Councilman Paul Shepherd took exception to this and said,” You’re embarrassing me. You just slapped all of us as bunch of knuckle under [a crude word for cowards]. It’s outrageous … the idea that we’re trying to take housing from some people who apparently have an extra house — I don’t understand your thinking.”

At the end of the meeting, when residents are asked to comment, Larry Adler accused Mr. Colligan of being a hypocrite because the councilman had once stayed in a rental of one-week years ago. Mr. Colligan disputed that. Mr. Adler also said that former Councilwoman Mary Dudley had guests to her wedding housed in STRs as she was drafting legislation on minimum stays.

Ms. Dudley told the Reporter this week that this was untrue.

Mr. Adler also accused some board members of “collusion,” meaning that they had helped build a constituency for two-week minimums, and that it would be “economic suicide” if the board voted for the two weeks since tourism would be drastically reduced.

Jeff Lederman, who is in favor of limited restrictions, said the debate “slowly kills me — you working to take away a house I’ve worked hard for my family.”

Sheri Cavasini, manager of the Dering Harbor Inn spoke, as she has in the past, in favor of strict limitations on STRs since it was unfair to the hotels on the Island, she said. Noting that Mr. Adler had, at a public hearing on the issue, been “rude,” Ms. Cavasini was told by Mr. Adler in a loud voice to “sit down and shut up.”

After a vocal commotion from the audience, the meeting settled down.

A vote on the issue has not been set, but will be after the next public hearing scheduled for the end of the month. If passed, an effective date for compliance is expected by midsummer. Mr. Colligan said he’s in favor of a July 1 date.

In other business: The board walked back it’s proposal to require commercial fishermen to prove a “vessel registration” to receive a break on docking fees at Congdons Creek Dock.

With Assessor Quinn Karpeh resigning, the town will place ads for his replacement. Town Attorney Laury Dowd said “if the position is filled, it would only be until November and then a candidate will have to run for the position to fill out the remaining two years of Mr. Karpeh’s term.

Councilwoman Chris Lewis said the board should discuss whether, in the future, assessors should be elected or appointed.