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Islanders organize an advocacy group: Seek to pressure officials on water, zoning

Not since the lengthy — and often bitter — debate over short-term rentals from several years ago has the public been more organized into taking action on issues facing the Island.

Those issues are water and zoning. The former has especially galvanized numerous residents to attend public meetings and protest when hired consultants recommended that waste water from Center buildings be piped to a sewage treatment facility under Klenawicus Airfield.

As for zoning, homeowners in Hay Beach were organized to put a stop to Gardiner’s Bay Country Club’s plan to build housing for club employees.

Out of both of those concerns was born Shelter Islanders for Clean Water and Responsible Zoning, which according to Patrick Clifford, one of the founders, came about when he and neighbors and friends decided “someone has to act.” Mr. Clifford is president of Hay Beach Property Owners Association, which was firmly against the proposed housing.

In addition, The Shelter Island Association placed a full-page ad in the Reporter this month, calling for civic involvement in water use and zoning.

Mr. Clifford said the new organization was triggered by the Country Club’s proposal to construct a two-story staff house with 40 rooms, two kitchens, two lounges, two laundry rooms, storage janitor room, and two patios. A second one-story staff house would have four one-bedroom apartments and two two-bedroom apartments plus an unfinished basement.

James Lynch, an attorney and Hay Beach resident, made a strong case against the proposal, and one argument to stop the process was that, as Mr. Lynch pointed out, a 2019 United States Geological Survey Report showed the site suggested for the housing was in an area where the nitrate level of water is considered high.

Mr. Clifford said that protecting water in one part of the Island “is protecting water everywhere.”

The plan to build at the Country Club ground to a halt. The idea went nowhere after pushback from residents.

The new organization, with Mr. Lynch listed as treasurer, has taken out ads and done grassroots recruiting, Mr. Clifford said. It now has more than 40 members and is growing.

“People were calling, saying, ‘What can we do?’ There’s been a convergence of issues,” he said, with water and zoning as well as a push to re-define terms in the Town Code, which they say is ambiguous in many places.

Terms that could be too broadly defined led, Mr. Clifford and others believed, to real estate deals moving through government processes with little transparency for the public to view.

Mr. Clifford mentioned the sale of The Ram’s Head Inn mooring rights as troubling to some who believed Coecles Harbor could become a spot for mega-yachts to dock. He mentioned the Soloviev Group purchasing The Chequit, Jack’s Marine and possibly two other iconic businesses, along with the private attorney for the owner, now appointed as the Town’s attorney, as problematic for many Islanders. “It’s progress, sure, but we have to be aware of what’s going on,” he said.

For now, the Clean Water and Responsible Zoning group is looking for members who want to “participate, and some to join as advisory members,” Mr. Clifford said. “We’re looking for experts who have experience in zoning and water issues.” Their mission, he added, “is not to be a shadow government. We have recommendations to make and want to be heard.”