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Town Board: Traffic and property rights lead discussion

Issues under discussion by the Town Board at its virtual Tuesday work session were road safety, water, and property rights

The board also briefly touched on the controversy at Bootleggers Alley, where off-Island visitors have been coming on weekends to fish and picnic, causing parking and other problems for residents. Supervisor Gerry Siller and other members said the problem had abated, with less people showing up recently, and the town was working on new parking regulations.

But first the board granted an application to Project Surf NY to run a motorized (battery powered) surfboard rental and instruction business at Crescent Beach this summer. The business will have access to the boat ramp at the northern end of the beach; will pay for a seasonal parking permit; and have a tent on the beach. The operating hours will be from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Staying Safe

On traffic safety, resident Cathy Kenny went before the board to speak about motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and runners all jostling for space on sometimes narrow roads. Ms. Kenny noted that the roads are even more crowded this year because COVID-19 has restricted other recreational activities.

The board was in agreement that residents and visitors should be made aware of the rules of the road. Ms. Kenny suggested a series of lawn signs near the roads to inform people of the rules. The yard signs can be creatively designed, similar to the “Turtle Crossing” signs around the Island, and easily removed after the summer season.

The board was in agreement and will discuss producing the signs with a designer.

Owning it

Two discussions took place on the issue of property rights. People walking around the Island’s beaches — some literally, as in taking hikes to circumnavigate the Island — have a right to be below the median high water mark of any beach.

As with the recent discussion of visitors at Bootleggers Alley, the high watermark is often not clearly designated, and the town is in the process of having a survey to determine the correct property lines.

But there has been the issue of bulkheads, that at low tide can block access to the public’s right to walk on a beach. Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. said that federal law has determined that walkers must be allowed access by using a privately owned bulkhead to proceed walking.

Silver Beach resident Orhan Birol told the board that a neighbor had “clear cut” oak trees on his newly purchased land. Mr. Birol wrote a letter to the editor of the Reporter about the situation (Your Letters, “Clear Cutting,” June 25) and reiterated his points that the tree cutting endangers the environment and is unsightly.

He noted that other towns have ordinances about the felling of trees, but not Shelter Island, “and [the board] should speak to the leadership of other towns for some kind of rules and regulations. It’s high time you do something.”

Mr. Siller said the issue should be included in the upcoming Comprehensive Plan discussion as well as with members of the Conservation Advisory Council (CAC).

Councilman Jim Colligan said he had noticed that before the house was purchased the trees were overgrown and looked to be threatening its structure. But now, he added, the property in question “looks like a lumber mill. It was heavily vegetated, but now looks like a desert.”

Mr. Siller said there has to be a balance, however, between an “individual’s rights and the environment,” to which Mr. Birol said that rights had to be balanced between an individual and the community.

Police Chief Jim Read said it was wrong “to push too hard” against an individual owner’s rights to make changes on his or her property. “A line has to be drawn,” the chief said.

Mr. Birol was invited to discuss the issue with members of the CAC.

Water report

According to a report from Councilman Mike Bebon on the latest measuring of the aquifer by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Island is currently classified at “drought level zero,” or, Mr. Bebon said, “abnormally dry.”

The suggestion now, he added, is to “voluntarily conserve water where you can.”

Mr. Siller mentioned that he and Mr. Bebon had recently spoken with officials at the Suffolk County Water Authority. “For 30 years there’s been water issues on Shelter Island,” Mr. Siller said, and the SCWA “has never been brought in.”

It would be good idea, he added, to “put our minds together to see what we can come up with.”