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Shelter Island Reporter Letters to the Editor



Making a world of difference
To the Editor:
I am writing to share the following: April 16 to 22 is National Student Leadership Week (NSLW). I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the efforts of our local leaders in the Shelter Island High School National Honor Society.

Since September, this group has spread positive attitudes with a “locker sticky note” campaign; stuffed 500 bags for the 5K breast cancer run; raised over $1,500 for Habitat for Humanity by sleeping in boxes outside overnight; collected 446 items for our food pantry; made $466 in Shamrock sales for the Muscular Dystrophy Association; and most recently, collected $1,528 for the American Cancer Society from the sale of a T-shirt in support of Mrs. Sharon Gibbs, with additional donations of over $800 thanks to the extremely generous theater patrons for “Curtains.”

Members have also worked individually to send supplies to Haiti; draw awareness to eating disorders through Mirrorless Monday; raise funds for Syria through Yoga for Peace; distribute teen dating violence information with The Retreat; provide wait staff and coat checking at Island fundraisers; participate in clothing drives; and encourage Random Acts of Kindness, to name just a few.

And they are not through yet. This spring a team will collect coins with the elementary school for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society now through April 21; build six hours with Habitat on April 22; participate in an all-night Cancer Society Relay for Life on June 2; and, well, who knows what else? Here is what I do know: They will be kind. They will be helpful. They will be humble.

The 2017 theme for NSLW is “Making a World of Difference.” Thank you, honor society students, for making a difference both locally and globally. Thank you to the generous Shelter Island community as well, for your support of these amazing leaders.
Adviser, Shelter Island High School
National Honor Society

Lifeblood of this town
To the Editor:
Supporters of Shelter Island’s short-term rentals (STRs) were heard loud and clear at the April 7 public hearing. Some of our favorite speakers of the night were Renee Robinson, Bruce Dalton, Dawn Fotopolous, Ms. Lopez, Julia Weisenberg, Larry and Pamela Adler, Linda Kraus, Ariel Levy, Bob Cacciola and Joseph Kelly. All of them did a magnificent  job — and made excellent points — with experience and heart!

The pro-STRs petition now has over 700 signatures. Listen to Islanders and business owners who understand that STRs are the lifeblood of this town. The present draft law violates our property rights, New York State Department of Human Rights and the Federal Fair Housing Act.

Have you signed?  Please visit:  change.org and search: “Support Shelter Islander’s Short Term Rentals and Protect Your Property Rights.”

Care to contribute to our legal fund to help defend your property rights? Please visit: gofundme.com/saveshorttermrentalsonshelterisland.
Shelter Island

The best interests
To the Editor:
I reside full time on Shelter Island. As confirmed by the town hall staff, over 600 petitions have been claimed by Kathryn O’Hagan to be against passing local laws for short-term rentals (STRs). But such petitions have no addresses for the names submitted. In fact, those petitions are largely from non-residents of Shelter Island — the petition is an “alternative fact.”

A review of those petitions was conducted by looking at the online site and applying scientific sampling to a significant number of people who signed. It became quite apparent by examining the addresses of the signers of the O’Hagan petition that 71 percent of the names were people who did not reside on Shelter Island as an owner or renter.

Additionally, those 71 percent signers were national or New York City metro area landlords, Airbnb members or other national advocates with no connection to the Island and the balance were short-term renters from all over the country who complained about the proposed law here. In other words, only 29 percent of the O’Hagan petition signers reside on Shelter Island.

The petition contains only about 175 — not 600 — names of Island residents.

Still not convinced? Ask Ms. O’Hagan to produce the addresses of people who signed her 600 Petitions, which she has never provided. The true facts are the true facts — these are not “alternative facts.”

Lastly, I was dismayed by the rude behavior and disrespect of the landlords, who overwhelmingly do not reside on the Island, and clearly now are in control of the O’Hagan pro-STR group, and who have been appearing repeatedly at Town Board meetings, and accusing the members of “collusion” or “intimidation” for absurd reasons, all in contradiction of the members’ First Amendment rights.

I applaud the board’s hard work in the best interests of Shelter Island.
Shelter Island

This insanity
To the Editor:
The town has spoken! By a margin of greater than 2 to 1, the Shelter Island community has told the Town Board no to restrictions on short-term rentals. Other than Supervisor Jim Dougherty, all members are acting irresponsibly if they go through with this. Councilman Colligan’s proposal and absolute intransigence in the face of overwhelming fact and community opposition is downright treasonous to the people who live on the Island. The remaining board members other than Mr. Dougherty are equally complicit in this insanity.

Not only have they divided the Island, they will cause irreparable economic damages in the future if they go through with this.

In my profession their behavior would be considered unprofessional and unsafe and four members would be looking for a job if they worked in my department and behaved like they have. Time is running out, do the right thing and forget this proposed legislation!
Shelter Island

Move forward
To the Editor:
I continue to be encouraged to see the majority of the Town Board taking positive steps to address the issue of unregulated short term rentals (STRs) in our town. I support reasonable regulation to facilitate responsible rentals. I urge the board to move forward with the proposed regulations.

This issue has been dissected and discussed more than enough. Basically, a house is not a hotel. A house should be a home. The April 6 edition of the Reporter had some very interesting data on the local short term rentals and the money generated for those with vested interests (“Snapshot of Island online rental market”).

I can’t afford a big hot-shot lawyer from Boston, but I have every right to express my opinion. Expression of opinion should be civil and courteous. There is no excuse for bullying and disrespect. I didn’t attend the last public hearing, but I took copious notes at the first one and I sent comments to the board. I don’t find it helpful for people to be called out by name in the public record. It’s disrespectful.
Shelter Island

Fix was in
To the Editor:
What Friday’s hearing unequivocally showed was that there is no basis in the law or fact for the proposed regulations. Our attorney made it even clearer that the proposed law will not withstand judicial scrutiny.

We had no choice but to retain counsel. After a year of attending board meetings, writing letters to the editor and the board, during which we directly requested “facts and reasons” to justify regulating a non-issue, and explained how the facts and law are against regulating, we concluded that the “fix was in.” That was made manifest after the hearing in January, where contrary to the facts and applicable law, the board proposed an even more draconian law.

I have been practicing corporate litigation for 30 years. Most lawyers like me are loathe to litigate or bring lawyers into their personal lives. Shelter Island is my retreat and has been for 23 years. But when we realized that no one was listening to us we hired an exceptional lawyer to make our points again. As Mr. Blaesser said, the proposed legislation is unconstitutional and an unlawful exercise of the board’s power.

Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Roosevelt are my heroes. They stand and stood up for what they believe, for the marginalized and for people afraid to stand up for fear of retribution.

They stood up even when called terrible names. We’ve been told to shut up and sit down. We’ve been called: evil flophouse landlords, outsiders, angry feminists, plagiarizing ghost writers, “Brooklyn people.”

When my family moved here 23 years ago we were disparaged as “Manhattan Yuppies.”

Things change. Life gets more diverse. That’s a good thing. But not to the pro-regulation people who want “to go back in time” when the renters were “fresh faced young couples.”

That is code, and that code is illegal.

Standing against these baseless regulations that will hurt my friends and the residents of the Island is the right thing to do. Standing against certain members of the board who have shown overt favoritism to the pro-regulation group is important. Town Ethics Code 8-3(E) prohibits a town employee from “giving the impression” that he or she favors a group or individual. The divide some of the board members has created has now led to threats against businesses and people who support STRs.

We are better than that.
Shelter Island

Crisis for affordable housing
To the Editor:
Although supporters of STRs such as Airbnb claim otherwise, as a professor of urban affairs I am writing to say that there is much evidence of the negative impact of transient or STRs on long-term rental housing stock and on the housing market in general.

Communities as far flung as beach resorts on the English coast, ski resort communities in the western part of the U.S. and cities in Iceland inundated by tourists using platforms such as Airbnb for STRs, have registered a depletion of rental housing stock previously available to local residents, creating a crisis for affordable housing and giving rise to various regulatory measures on the part of localities.

Closer to home, I would like to quote the conclusion of the lead article in this past week’s Sunday New York Times’ real estate section: “Making a Living on Airbnb,” by James Dobbins: “While the debate continues over how Airbnb might affect housing availability and rental prices in the city, the incentive to host is clear. Why rent out the average New York one-bedroom for $2,700 a month when there is potential to make $200 every night, or $6,000 a month, during peak tourist seasons? Some housing advocates believe that if transient rentals like those on Airbnb were no longer available, the available long-term rental housing stock could be as much as 10 percent higher citywide.”
Shelter Island

To the Editor:
At the last STR public hearing this past Friday night, not one, but four persons stood up stating they represented their respective associations and were not in favor of STRs.
As secretary for the Hilo Shores Association, I couldn’t possibly go in front of a public hearing and give truthful testimony without a statistical poll to the members that our association is for or against a law, political party or a certain candidate.

These speakers presented no statistical evidence that they spoke for all or part of their own associations. They presented no documentation of a survey given to their members. If a survey was given, no evidence of the number of responses received whether the response be for the law, against the law or no opinion on the law.

If you have not been asked for your views or a vote from your community association, then you may have been wrongfully represented.
Shelter Island

Intent and impact
To the Editor:
Anyone doubtful of the intent and the impact of Airbnb should look at the website airdna.com, which provides Airbnb statistics by ZIP code and acts as a guide to current and prospective “investors” seeking to “optimize” their returns on investment by finding the most “attractive” potential neighborhoods and by manipulating the pricing and advertising to attract renters so as to maximize profits for themselves and for Airbnb.

For example it shows revenue per day and projected income per size of property. This advice is clearly commercial in nature. This deliberately invites in outside investors seeking new areas to exploit. Airbnb encourages real estate speculation while lining its own corporate pockets.

Friends and neighbors, this is no different than inviting a for-profit garbage dump into your neighborhood. You live with the stench while absentee owners collect profits.

This will eventually result in Shelter Island real estate getting dominated by Airbnb. This is why all other East End towns have limited STRs. Please, let’s do the same so we do not become a STR ghetto.
Shelter Island

To the Editor:
Any objective person who attended the public hearing on STR regulation has to accept the obvious. There was overwhelming support among those who attended — and it was a full house — for putting an end to this folly and dropping this misguided infringement on our privacy and property rights.

Should the board take the foolhardy step of passing this regulation in the face of so much dissent as well as the legal opinion of counsel [the attorney for an anti-regulation group], they will be subjecting themselves, our community and taxpayers to massive financial liability.

Perhaps the best action the board can now take is to put as much effort and energy into finding constructive ways to heal the community as they have in tearing it apart.
Shelter Island

No hard data
To the Editor:
At the April 7 public hearing there was an overwhelming response that a large majority of homeowners and businesses do not want short-term rental (STR) regulation.

The current draft of the legislation states: “The Town Board in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community requires the regulation of these transient rental properties.”

A full-time resident asked the board how many complaints the police received during 2015 or 2016, to which the supervisor’s response was, “We don’t have that information off-hand.”

There is no hard data to back up the intent of the law.

In fact, in my review of the noise complaints from the Police Department, most were for Sunset Beach There is no material correlation between noise complaints and private homes that are STRs. This legislation is a non-issue.

Shelter Island has no Montauk-like clubs with overflowing intoxicated persons wandering through people’s backyards, and there are no limos full of people going from winery to winery like in Southhold, or worse, drunk driving.  Shelter Island does not offer these types of establishments and therefore does not attract this clientele. Most homeowners who testified said their typical renters are families with children, and the loudest noises are from kids playing.

The legislative intent cloaks the ugly reasons behind the law and that is the discriminatory nature of some and the demonizing of renters that has occurred over these months. In particular there were several disturbing comments from those who want strong regulation on STRs, namely one resident who said “I cannot think of anyone who bought a house on the Island thinking they’d have up to 25 different neighbors a year.”

Why is there some underlying assumption that those who can afford to rent for two weeks or more are “safer?” Why is two weeks the magic number?

There simply isn’t a security risk from “transient renters,” they are background checked and owners have their ID, Social Security and credit card numbers and access to their Linkedin/Facebook pages . The “transient renters” that are such a safety and security risk to the Island are better background checked than the contractor working on your house.

Think about that.
Shelter Island

Shelter Island’s wealth
To the Editor:
Politics were the life blood of my family. My father ran John Glenn’s first campaign for the U.S. Senate from Ohio. Dad knew politicians and their craft. He said the best way to determine if they did the right thing was when both sides are upset. Compromise is the essence of a democratic political process. Jefferson argued that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental purpose of government and that governments must reflect the consent of the governed.

Not much happiness nor consent have been present in this STR debate. Still the process is essential. Far better to have these explicit arguments than not. While more detached observers — and some of the active parties — admit the visions of the sides are extreme.

Ferry-to-ferry ghost B & Bs, financed by anonymous hedge funds versus near universal financial destitution — both unlikely. Still, real estate is our Island’s wealth.

In contrast to this debate, the single sale transactions of St. Gabe’s — property our Town Board failed to preserve or at least protect. It was a jewel that’s loss has not yet registered. Construction of the mega-homes has not started.

This active debate should yield the benefit of a fair STR law. Still laws, even in the acquired wisdom of our Town Board, can be bad. My father said the best way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it. Let’s all hope that ugly process will be unnecessary.
Shelter Island

True nature of the Island
To the Editor:
I believe that we have all lost sight of the two major impediments to adoption of the proposed STR legislation.

1. We are debating two separate issues as if they are the same. Party houses are very different from the vast majority of rentals that occur because we need the money, want the money, and/or — none of your business. Are we not clever enough to differentiate between the two and proceed accordingly?

2. There are no mechanisms for exceptions. We are small enough to personalize this endeavor. Imagine an Island that, except for people with enormous houses, precludes large family reunions, parents who want to see their sons hit home runs in the Bucks games, honeymooners who want to spend a romantic weekend on our Island and the list goes on.

After all the work the Town Board has done, it would be sad to see a law that does not reflect the true nature of our Island.
Shelter Island