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Another delay on Inn dock case: Town Board talks SEQRA issues for replacement

Hurry up and wait might often be the mantra for court procedures. Once again, the case pending in Suffolk Supreme Court brought by Ram’s Head Inn owner Aandrea Carter against Shelter Island Town officials, which was scheduled to resume Sept. 22, was delayed until Oct. 13.

In a letter dated Sept. 21 to Justice Joseph Santorelli, attorney Alex Kriegsman, who represents Ms. Carter, asked for a second delay.

“Currently pending before the Court are several motions to dismiss by defendants, all returnable on September 22,” he wrote. “Defendants have consented to my request to adjourn the return dates 21 days to October 13.”

The suit against the Town officials stems from an action in May when the Town Board instructed Public Works Commissioner Brian Sherman to put up fencing on the dock that had long been used by former Ram’s Head Inn owners James and Linda Eklund, and then used by Ms. Carter after she had purchased the property in 2021.

There had been several decisions through the years pertaining to whether that dock was anchored to the shore on land owned by the Inn or the Town. But the last such decision had come down e of that the dock was on Town land.

Ms. Carter hired Costello Marine to design a new dock that would clearly be on land she owned. The Town Board cooperated with her efforts to use the existing dock for her customers during the summer of 2021.

But various revisions of the plan for a replacement dock with changes made to comply with state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) requirements and Town requirements failed to move forward and the Town Board several times requested removal of the old dock.

Finally, last May, the dock was fenced off and planks leading to the land were removed making it unusable and spurred Ms. Carter’s lawsuit against the entire Town Board, but also personally suing Supervisor Gerry Siller and Town Attorney Stephen Kiely.

The result has been to take the two men out of ongoing discussions on a second track — this time to make changes to an adjoining dock on property Ms. Carter purchased. It has been referred to as the Bennett dock.

That application is pending before the Waterways Management Advisory Council and Town Board. The Town Board held a discussion at its Sept. 20 work session on what type of environmental study should be required for that application.

Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams ran the session and called on Councilwoman Meg Larsen to lead the discussion since she had studied the issue.

The Board, minus Mr. Siller and Mr. Kiely who left the room, generally agreed there are a couple of questions that need to be resolved:

• The application filed with the Town and the one filed with the DEC are in different names and they need to match.

• Some information on the two applications don’t match.

Attorney Kriegsman was made aware of the discussion and able to listen to it, but there’s no indication yet of the resolution of those two questions.

The remaining four Town Board members discussed questions to help resolve whether a short environmental form would suffice or a detailed form should be filed by the application. The State Environmental Quality Review Act requires that determination.

Reviewing the questions, most of the Board seemed inclined to think a short form might suffice, but no action was taken and the discussion is expected to continue.

In response to a question from Ms. Brach-Williams, Attorney Timothy Hill, who stood in for Mr. Kiely during the discussion, said he doesn’t believe there’s any relationship between the court lawsuit and the pending application that could allow the Inn to have two separate docks.

There is also an issue to resolve since the Bennett dock has been considered residential, but would be used by the Inn as a commercial dock.

Ms. Larsen said there are docks in the area longer than the Bennett dock even if floats were to be approved. But there is still a question about intensity of use and potential noise in the residential neighborhood.

Neighbors have been split, some favoring Ms. Carter’s stance that she needs a dock to keep her business thriving and others arguing the application to adapt the Bennett dock for use by the Inn should be rejected.

Councilman Jim Colligan said there needs to be a balance of interests between neighbors’ concern for a peaceful life and the Inn’s need to have a dock usable by boaters coming to its business. He said an approval should have mitigating factors attached.

Ms. Carter has worked to be a good neighbor since buying the Inn, Mr. Colligan said. The Town Board should speak with her about a list of efforts she would be willing to make to maintain a calm ambiance while operating a successful business.

Ms. Brach-Williams said the Town Board needs to come up with questions to submit to Ms. Carter.