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Yard sale law tabled by Town Board

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said about pornography: “I know it when I see it,” rejecting a need to further define it.

One speaker at the Oct. 23 Town Board public hearing on a proposed law to regulate yard sales cited Justice Stewart’s comment to explain that he knows what constitutes a yard sale and what is an individual running an ongoing business while insisting it’s a yard sale.

After fielding some complaints, the board tasked Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. to draft a proposed law that would regulate, among other things, how often a resident can have a yard sale; opening and closing hours; parking and signage; registration with the town; and enforcement.

While most Town Board members believe the issue requires regulation, many residents argued that the proposed law amounted to overkill for a single situation.

One resident, trying to sell his Island house, said he was told by a realtor that a neighbor with mannequins outside his house, along with nude pictures, would make the sale difficult and certainly cut down on the price if his house did sell.

Another argued that including the proposal in the Town Code would make the Shelter Island more like the Hamptons. That strikes a chord with many Islanders who have vociferously claimed independence, insisting they are not the South or North forks and don’t want to move in directions that might be appropriate for those areas, but not their town.

Most Islanders respect their neighbors and cooperate with them, another speaker told the board.

If a person puts inappropriate items outside a house, a yard sale law won’t do anything to control that as long as the person insists the items aren’t for sale. But if someone rides by and offers to purchase an item and a deal is done, the original owner of the item will continue to insist he or she is not having a yard sale.

This law does not solve the problem, one woman said. The proposal is an answer to problems that don’t exist, according to another speaker.

“It’s another arrow in our quiver of trying to deal with a problem,” Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams said.

“I’m opposed to this law,” Councilman Albert Dickson said. Councilman Mike Bebon said he struggles with the proposal, not favoring additional laws to try to solve every problem. But unless he hears a better proposal, he said he’s inclined to support the law.

Finally, Councilman Jim Colligan suggested that the issue be put on hold for three weeks, inviting anyone with a better idea to step forward. He said the Town Board has “tried everything” and the problem seems to be getting worse.

“Something has to be done,” he said, while making it clear he and his colleagues would be open to considering ideas anyone else might propose.