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Shelter Island Reporter Letters to the Editor: May 5, 2022

Unreasonable attack

To the Editor:

In the past, I have disagreed with many of the letters that have been published in the Reporter. Last week’s attack on Liz Hanley and Chris DiOrio, however, was a shock. 

The author has seemingly mistaken the sense of entitlement for the sense of community. Shelter Island is and always has been built on a strong community. A mix of trades, ages, families, summer visitors and year-round residents. If you do not wish to participate in this community, that’s fine. However, if you give it a shot, you would perhaps find that the need for housing is crucial.

Housing is a country-wide problem; Shelter Island being no exception. The Town would be irresponsible if it wouldn’t address the issue that arose here in the 1970s (according to the Zoning Board of Appeals minutes I came across).

Luckily, we have great and capable people willing to help. Further, homeowners on the Island will not be affected by the 0.5% transfer tax at all — unless they are purchasing their 2nd, 3rd or 4th property here. 

That being said, the housing plan that is in its early stages strives to be self-sustaining. Water and housing are very complex issues and can be addressed and resolved hand-in-hand. But writing half-truths with aggressive personal attacks is in no way part of the solution.

In conclusion, since I know Liz and Chris personally, I would describe both of them as hard-working, honest and down-to-earth people who care very much about the future of Shelter Island. They have rolled up their sleeves and dug into this issue for the community. Entitlement is not their personality trait. I wish them and both boards they chair the best of luck.

On a different subject: Thank you, John and Anu, for another wonderful musical production and congratulations to the cast and crew! What an amazing show! I hope everyone got to see it and witnessed the community’s true spirit.


Questions Open Meeting compliance

To the Editor:

 Last year, “Codger” here observed what has since become a running joke in this town: “Siller,” he wrote, “does not run a transparent administration.”(7/26/21). Months later, Codger suggested not only had nothing changed, but Siller had become hopelessly unapologetic: “The supervisor himself has not been opaque about his lack of transparency.” (10/23/21). While Codger agreed with some of Siller’s policies, he questioned whether the means justified the ends. Yet, Siller remained unfazed, telling the Reporter, he’s “tired of the whole transparency discussion.” After all, “I am not a tyrant,” Siller told the Codger.

Sound familiar? Many of us are old enough to remember the words, “I am not a crook.” But soon after those words were spoken, we got an important lesson in civics: “No man is above the law.” Not even the supervisor of a small Long Island town.

 Last week, I pointed out the Town Board has repeatedly violated New York’s Open Meetings Law by improperly convening secret meetings in Executive Sessions. For the Board to discuss a matter in private, state law requires that the discussion (1) concern one of only several enumerated subjects—e.g., pending litigation, job interview, acquisition of property—and (2) be authorized by a public motion identifying what would be secretly discussed “with particularity.” It is insufficient to merely regurgitate the statutory language. Daily Gazette v. Town Board (11/9/81). That is, the Board can’t just say “litigation,” “personnel,” “property,” or “legal advice,” as it has done.

 “Merely reciting to ‘litigation, personnel, real estate, and contracts’ as the basis for entering into executive session, without describing with some detail the nature of the proposed discussions, the Board has done exactly what the Open Meetings Law was designed to prevent.” Matter of Lucus (10/5/17). The Board, ruled the court, must “identify, for example, the name of the case that will be the subject of the discussion regarding ‘litigation,’ or the name of the property that will be the subject of the discussion regarding ‘real estate’.” Id.

 Government transparency is no joke. Under the Open Meetings law, any action taken that was discussed at an illegally-held Executive Session may be declared void by the court. “Democracy,” said one court, “like a precious jewel, shines most brightly in the light of an open government. The open meetings law seeks to preserve this light.“

 Our Town Board has promised us transparency. Town residents will be watching.

 BOB KOHN, Shelter Island

Why Shelter Island?

To the Editor:

The letters in last week’s Reporter opposing affordable housing on Shelter Island got me wondering. Many communities offer some type of affordable housing to their residents. Certainly the cities where Ms. Zonca and Mr. Kohn have lived and worked (New York and Los Angeles) provide it. Did Ms. Zonca and Mr. Kohn take steps in those cities, or in other places that they’ve lived, to oppose affordable housing policies? If not, it’s curious that they have singled out Shelter Island to oppose the initiative here.

They do make some claims about the impact community housing might have on the island, stating it would destroy water quality and cause taxes to rise to the extent that current homeowners may lose their homes. If true, those would be significant consequences, but the letter writers fail to provide a single fact to support their allegations. Even a cursory review of the Community Housing Board’s efforts shows no high-density housing is being considered, that environmental concerns are taken seriously and that the proposed funding mechanism is a real estate transfer tax, not an increase in town taxes.

The heart of their opposition is made clear in Ms. Zonca’s letter, which states that Shelter Islanders who might need affordable housing don’t “deserve” to live here. She seems to suggest that they could simply move to Greenport, Southold, or Mattituck, ignoring the fact that those towns, like most East End towns, are struggling with their own significant housing affordability issues.

Her letter also castigates two Shelter Island volunteers who have dedicated time and energy to addressing the issue of community housing, accusing them of exhibiting a chilling sense of entitlement. To quote Ms. Zonca: “Really?” The only chill I felt was from her troubling statements about who is and who is not entitled to live in our town.

I hope we never get to the point where our community buys into the philosophy that only the very wealthy deserve to live here. I’m also grateful that Cris DiOrio, Liz Hanley and the other community housing volunteers are willing to donate their time and expertise to work on this challenging and important issue.

SUSAN JONES, Shelter Island

A wake-up call

To the Editor:

Shelter Island as we know and love it, is disappearing. The median price of a house on the island is now 1.8 million dollars which requires an annual income of approximately a half a million dollars. 

Wealthy individuals are buying, demolishing or renovating homes. They live here a few months each year and return to the city or warm weather winter homes for the remainder of the year. Islanders who have lived here for generations are cashing out of old family homes, leaving the island, unable to afford to live here anymore.

Well planned community housing and smart growth initiatives won’t change the Island. They’re a well proven means to preserve the quality of life and maintain a healthy year-round vibrant and economically diverse community. A community including working and middle-class housing supports year-round commerce.

A great amount of misinformation is circulating on the island by individuals who misunderstand the causes of changes and their implications for the future. These same individuals are buying islanders out of their homes and businesses, attempting to create an elite summer resort.

How do we stop the steal of Shelter Island and keep the cost of homes accessible for Islanders?

It’s through well planned community housing. Following the examples of comparable communities like Block Island and other East End towns. Make lower cost land available to Islanders and create neighborhoods more similar in density and scale to the older portions of the Heights. 

Community housing is not a hand out. It’s not high-density housing and it will not adversely impact water resources. Community housing is less consumptive of water and has lower septic impact than the 6,000 plus square foot homes sprouting up in many parts of the Island. It’s time to moderate this consumptive form of development. There are enough island resources for everyone, if we are willing to share and follow good planning.

The essence of Shelter Island life is its strong community. Islanders are hard-working people with many interesting vocations and avocations.

If you don’t cherish these qualities of life, there are many other places fully gentrified, gated and possibly more to your liking.

If you love the Island as it is and wish to preserve Island life, please actively support community housing and smart growth.

MICHAL SHATKEN, Shelter Island

Success on stage

To the Editor:

Thank you for your beautiful article on the school play, Matilda. The show was a brilliant success this past weekend.  It was exciting for our school to welcome the Shelter Island community back into our building! 

My sincere thanks to John and Anu Kaasik and their group of expert volunteers: Peter Waldner, Keith Brace, Sara Mundy, Laura Dickerson, Susan Cincotta, Marcus Kaasik, Julia Brennan, JoAnn Kirkland, Lora Lomuscio, Jill Regan, Charity Robey, Paul Mobius and Lisa Goody.

John, Anu, and their team brought great joy to the lives of our students over the past few months. Thanks, also, to Chris DiOrio and Sara Mundy for their unforgettable roles. Finally, and most importantly, thank you to all of our students who participated as actors and stage crew. The talent, camaraderie, and kindness of our children never ceases to amaze me.

Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., Shelter Island