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Board still sparring over short-term rentals

JULIE LANE PHOTO Chris Lubicich from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, seated next to Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar at Tuesday’s Town Board work session, outlined the county’s goals and methods for improving water quality.

JULIE LANE PHOTO Chris Lubicich from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, seated next to Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar at Tuesday’s Town Board work session, outlined the county’s goals and methods for improving water quality.

If crafting the new law pertaining to short-term rentals (STRs) took many months, getting it rolling with registrations is proving no easy task for town officials.

Jeanette Flynn, compliance officer for the legislation, told the Town Board at Tuesday’s work session that she has registered 15 homeowners who plan to offer short-term rentals this summer and seven other in the process of compliance.

The number of people who either forgot they were required to register by July 1 or may be protesting the new law by ignoring it is unknown, Ms. Flynn said, because a software package the town purchased to scan listings and advertisements of such rentals is not yet available. The system should be installed by mid July, she said.

All new laws and systems experience “growing pains,” Councilman Jim Colligan noted.

Police Chief Jim Read encouraged the board to ease into the new law by sending letters to those identified as listing STR properties and giving them 30 days to comply. The department would then send certified letters after the 30-day period warning that noncompliance would lead to enforcement action. For those who still failed to comply, the third letter, also sent by certified mail, would contain a violation charge that could lead to a court date.

The reality is it would be sometime in August, if the chief’s suggestion is followed, before legal action accusing those who had failed to register of a committing a “criminal” violation.

Town officials would have a better chance of compliance with the new law if the entire board stood behind it regardless of how anyone voted, Mr. Colligan said.

“That’s an insult,” Supervisor Jim Dougherty said. He was the only member to vote against the law, but repeated his earlier statement that he took an oath to uphold all laws.

But Mr. Colligan said at the same time the supervisor said he would uphold the law, he had encouraged those who opposed it to write letters voicing their opinions.

Mr. Dougherty called for action to be taken against violators as of July 1. “It sounds like you’re sleeping,” he told the other board members.

“That’s insulting,” Councilman Paul Shepherd said.

In fact, without the software, it would be impossible to enforce the law across the board unless they resulted from complaints from neighbors about someone renting their property without a permit.

“It sounds like the law’s a mess,” Mr. Dougherty said.

“The law is not a mess,” Councilwoman Chris Lewis said.

With that, the board changed the subject, leaving in limbo just when and how the new law would be enforced.

Mr. Shepherd said he spoke with vendors operating paddleboard and massage businesses on Crescent Beach and they are ready to sign whatever agreements or permits the board proposes.

Mr. Colligan outlined several concerns he said needs to be addressed. They include:
• Insurance
• Parking
• Space used on the beach
• Whether equipment could be left on the beach overnight
• Responsibility for cleaning up the area used on a regular basis

Mr. Shepherd asked if permits were issued, would they limit the types of businesses that could operate on the beach and would they be issued for a week, a month or a season.

Hay Beach resident Mary Dwyer said she’s is upset by what she sees at Crescent Beach.

“This changes the essence of what Shelter Island is — a serene lovely place,” Ms. Dwyer said. She also objected to chairs set out on the beach by Sunset Beach Hotel operators.

Chief Read said the hotel had agreed the chairs would be stacked by the bulkhead, not set out until people staying at the hotel asked for them. Hotel patrons have a right to access the beach and to sit in beach chairs, he said.

Following up on a presentation a manufacturer of one brand of new septic systems made to the Water Quality Improvement Projects Advisory Board in mid-June, a representative of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services outlined the initiative being undertaken by the county.

Chris Lubicich told the Town Board that 74 percent of Suffolk County homes are without sewers and the aged cesspools are resulting in a high level of nitrogen in the water.

Of concern to Town Attorney Laury Dowd was decisions being made at the county level that could affect the Island. She said the county has been using “faulty data” to make some decisions that might work well for other towns, but don’t accurately reflect what the Island needs to do.

Mr. Lubicich said he would speak to members of his team and determine what information might be specific to the Island.

The Health Department official outlined various systems and also talked about grants and loans that could be made available to those seeking to upgrade ineffective septic systems.
Information about qualifying for the loans and grants will be posted at reclaimourwater.info.