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Board eyeballs beach surveying bill, trying to determine private/public property

It was a good idea, but the price tag was too steep.

The Town Board, to restrict trespassing on private beach property, had proposed at a previous work session hiring a surveyor to determine the mean high-water mark on the Island’s shoreline.

The idea was sparked by the situation at Bootleggers Alley, where for several June weekends, crowds of more than 100 people — most from off-Island — have used the beach to fish and picnic, causing traffic and sanitation problems. Residents of the area have also reported that the visitors are trespassing, which on a beach, means being above the high-water line.

Private and public beaches are determined by that line, which can usually be seen by crushed shells and seaweed where the high tide stops and then recedes. The public is allowed anywhere below that line, but above that is trespassing on private property.

To make an official mark defining private and public, Bootleggers Alley resident Duke foster said he would hire a surveyor to determine the extent of his beach-front property. But the board rejected that idea and said the town would hire a surveyor to make official determinations of the entire Island’s shoreline.

On Tuesday, Town Engineer John Cronin came to the board’s work session with the price tag. A surveyor estimated that to establish the mean high-water line at Bootleggers Alley would cost $2,255 and $30 a piece to install concrete markers. As Councilman Jim Colligan noted, to survey and mark the Island’s shoreline would run into tens of thousands of dollars.

The board finally settled on just surveying and marking the Bootleggers Alley beach for now.

Police Chief Jim read said that the beach has been relatively quiet the last few weekends, partly because of new parking restrictions, but also because the schools of fish the visitors want to land have moved on.

Other beaches, however, have seen an influx of weekend visitors. “There’s been a shifting around,” Chief Read said, with fishermen going to beaches in the area known as “Section 9” —preserved land between Hay Beach and Ram Island — and Reel Point. Police recently counted 25 cars one day at the former location and about 20 at the latter. The chief cautioned, though, that the statistics now are just a “snapshot” and he would have a clearer picture of the situation after another week or so of monitoring the beaches. “This is a work in progress,” he said.

Bootleggers Alley resident Matthew Wells told the board that the relatively peaceful situation now will change, when schools of fish return, noting that striped bass come in August and September.

The board is in the process of codifying parking restrictions along Bootleggers Alley and should have a vote on the issue at its regular meeting on July 31.

In other business:

After weeks of discussions on crafting site plan review legislation for the town, and going over specifics in a draft that has circulated among town officials, some went back to square one on the issue.

A site plan review’s purpose is to, among other things, mitigate environmental impacts of new development on the land and water resources, and prevent overcrowding of land or buildings. It includes rules on parking, landscaping and access to properties from roads. Shelter Island is the only town on the East End lacking one.

At Tuesday’s work session, Supervisor Gerry Siller noted that researching other East End towns revealed that site plan reviews were conducted through planning boards. He asked why Shelter Island wanted the Town Board to do the work.

Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams answered that the Island’s Planning Board met once a month, and the Town Board every week, so the process would be quicker and “more nimble.”

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. said a previous draft of a review law from a couple of years ago had the Planning Board playing the major role in reviewing applications for new businesses, or ones that had requested a change of use, and “it didn’t survive contact with reality.” With the Town Board in charge, site plan review would be “streamlined,” Mr. DeStefano added.

Assessor Craig Wood, chairman of the Board of Assessment Review, took a strong position against setting up a review requiring all commercial property owners to formally submit plans for development.

Mr. Wood said restricting businesses trying to get off the ground “is a bad thing,” making prospective owners “jump through hoops.” He told the board that last year business owners crowded in Town Hall at public meetings on the issue to voice their objection to a complicated review process, and he suggested they be asked to return for further discussions. Why, Mr. Wood asked, is the board “making it more difficult for businesses to survive on this Island?”

Board members, it seemed, were in favor of the proposed legislation, but with reservations. Councilman Mike Bebon wanted more clarity in the  proposal’s language to enable a small business to get up and running quickly, and Councilman Albert Dickson wanted to ensure that site plan review started with the Town Board before it became entangled in other boards or departments in the town, “to accommodate smaller projects to get off the ground.” 

Councilman Jim Colligan asked how many business proposals came before the town in a year, and Mr. DeStefano said no more than two or three.

The board will continue the discussion next week.

Mr. Siller said that yard signs, informing pedestrians, cyclists and motorists about safe procedures, were available at Town Hall.