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Neighbors speak out on mega house

It’s likely the Town Board will issue a special permit to applicants who want to build a single family residence of 9,200 square feet, with an 1,800 square foot accessory building, bringing the total living space to 11,000 square feet.

Opponents see this as a trend jeopardizing clean and plentiful water on the Island. They’re rallying to limit structures to 6,000 square feet, which is the limit set without obtaining a special permit from the Town Board.

The board’s Tuesday work session was to have been a discussion among members of restrictions they want as part of resolution granting Seth and Bonnie Harris the right to build the house in question at the corner of Nostrand Parkway and Bootleggers Alley.

A handful of neighbors near two lots that would be merged to accommodate the structures spoke about water conditions in the area in terms of quantity and quality. They believe the board should consider the water issue before rendering a final decision on the application.

The problem, as Councilman Paul Shepherd pointed out, is that a public hearing had already been closed, and it was inappropriate for the board to receive additional information.

It didn’t stop neighbor Julie Karpeh from telling members she’s spent $20,000 — and could end up having to spend more — to get a well free from salt water, nitrates and other contaminants.

The nitrate level for the water in the most recent well she had dug is a 9.5 milligrams per liter, she said. The Suffolk County Department of Health Services has set 10 mg per liter as the top level allowed.

“Pregnant women and young children should not drink that water,” Councilman Albert Dickson said.

He has been the most outspoken member of the board about the effect large houses could have on salting wells and the potential for high levels of nitrates and other contaminants.

Mr. Dickson acknowledged that Paul Grosser, who assessed the impact the Harris’ proposal could have on area water and pronounced it safe to build as planned, is a well respected and reputable engineer. Still, Mr. Dickson said, he’s not convinced that there are groundwater conditions that haven’t been considered.

Town officials may have a generalized sense of the aquifer, but it may not apply to specific areas, he added. What if the assumptions being drawn from the general sense of the aquifer are wrong? he asked.

In addition to the Bootleggers area, there are water concerns in the Rams, Tarkettle and Montclair, he said.

“We’re very unique here on Shelter Island,” he said. “We have our own set of circumstances.”

The steps to limit large houses exists in the code, but the Town Board doesn’t stick to the 6,000 square foot limit, he said.

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. outlined a number of restrictions that would be included in the final resolution for a special permit if the board approves it. Among them are:
• A permanent merging of the two lots.
• A permanent agreement that the property could never be used as an airbnb.
• An agreement not to water planned tennis courts.
• A 5-gallon per minute pumping capability instead of 20 gallons from the well to avoid salt water intrusion in their water or neighbors’ water.
• Installation of a cistern to limit water that would come directly from the aquifer.
• Installation of a meter to track water use.
• Location of the Harris well that is a sufficient distance from the Karpeh well.

A vote is expected on a resolution at the Oct. 11 Town Board meeting.

Hay Beach resident Gordon Gooding told the board he’s organizing people to demand future house construction to be limited to 6,000 square feet. Mr. Gooding has told the board several times of serious concerns about the board’s tendency to approve mega houses that, he said, are a threat to both quality and quantity of water.

His plans are in the formative stage, but he expects to find more than a few town residents, he said, who are interested in exploring the possibilities of sticking to the restrictions on the size of houses.