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Yard sale law could be scrapped: Public hearing leaves the issue open

Yard sale legislation could be a dead issue on Shelter Island.

Susan Williams, the woman whose yard on South Midway Road has been at the center of neighbors’ complaints, appealed to the Town Board at a hearing Friday afternoon to call off plans for legislation. Instead, she asked for and received offers of help to clear her own property from debris.

Whether that’s enough to stop further consideration of a proposed law remains to be seen. Supervisor Gerry Siller and Tom Cronin offered assistance to Ms. Williams, with Mr. Cronin suggesting she consider filling a garbage can and taken to the Recycling Center while items she wants to retain be moved to her backyard.

“I’m not opposed to that,” said Ms. Williams, describing herself as a hoarder and someone who suffers from depression.

Other neighbors also offered to help improve Ms. Williams yard.

The revived public hearing Friday started off in an acrimonious way, with Ms. Williams complaining about previous encounters with Mr. Siller and Councilman Jim Colligan.

“Is this a democracy or it this a dictatorship?” she asked the two officials who she charged had treated her impolitely.

Mr. Colligan apologized for not reaching out to her when she sought help, explaining that he was about to undergo surgery. But he said he was advised by his colleagues and Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. not to respond to what was considered inappropriate attacks.

He noted that Mr. Siller and he had tried to offer various means of helping to clean up Ms. Williams’ yard.  

Mr. Siller said when she called the supervisor to complain, he said he listened until she called him a liar. That’s when he hung up and referred further contact to Mr. DeStefano.

Ms. Williams said she hasn’t been running an ongoing business from her house, but simply trying to get rid of some items others were interested in buying.

Ms. Williams acknowledged Mr. DeStefano’s assistance while maintaining her problems with neighbors were less than had been described at the initial public hearing. She said she knew someone had started a petition to demand she clean up her property but failed to get neighbors to sign it. She also acknowledged there were two unregistered vehicles on her property, but said they couldn’t be registered because of issues with the Department of Motor Vehicles that were complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was Mr. Colligan, an initiator of the yard sale legislation, who said he thought the issues with Ms. Williams’ yard could be resolved and he vowed to “tear up the proposed law” if the situation could be rectified. At the same time, he said there had been safety issues involving vehicles parking in the area to buy items from Ms. Williams and that had to be resolved.

“Let’s get this done in a neighborly way,” Ms. Williams agreed, while still charging Mr. Colligan with being “a bully who brings out the worst in people.”

“Give us an opportunity,” Mr. Colligan said about an effort to help Ms. Williams clean up her property.

Lynne Weikert asked that a limit of a month be set to provide time to improve the Williams property.

Kathleen Minder, who with husband Stephen Gessner is trying to sell their Shelter Island house, said she thought new legislation isn’t necessary if the town would enforce its own zoning code. The area is zoned to allow light commercial use such as a business operating from a home office. But home businesses can’t cause noise, traffic increases, odors or disturbances to neighbors. Mr. Gessner said he would be happy to see the issue resolved without the need for further legislation on the books.

Ms. Williams denied that the condition of her property affected the couple’s efforts to sell the house. But Ms. Minder said she and her husband were told by their agent that potential buyers backed away because of the condition of the Williams’ property.

David Hoffman told Town Board members he doesn’t think problems at Ms. Williams property are the only abuses. He suggested allowing nine days of yard sales per year without restrictions except to stay within existing laws with respect to safety.

David Gentile said he thinks the situation can be resolved without more regulation. But he said if the Town Board wants to enact a new law, it should be set to sunset after a single year. That would give the Town Board time to reassess whether a yard sale law is needed.

Until Nov. 13, only Councilman Albert Dickson expressed strong opposition to a yard sale law. For the moment, at least, the proposed law is tabled.