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Shelter Island Reporter Letters to the Editor: March 2, 2023

From the supervisor

To the Editor:

When I came back to Town Hall for my second go-around as town supervisor, I did so because I wanted to address issues that had been talked about for years but were never really addressed. Housing and water quality (both drinking and surface waters) were the top two priorities.

Unfortunately, COVID hit and for close to two years we were focused on getting the Town safely through the pandemic. While we didn’t abandon all other issues, the Town Board primarily focused on the health and safety of our residents.

We have made good strides in addressing both housing and water, and I would like to be able to see these initiatives through to completion.

I would remind everyone that the town supervisor is one of five members on the Town Board. While I am the chief financial officer and do set the initial agendas for work sessions, it is safe to say that the members of the Town Board, all independent thinkers, are not and will not be bullied by me or anyone else. Some people don’t like my “style,” accusing me of being a bully.

Bottom line is if you lie to the public I am going to confront you. 

Hopefully, I will be able to continue moving forward, together with a committed Town Board and the residents of our community, and bring closure to the items I was elected to pursue.

“When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear” — Thomas Sowell

GERRY SILLER, Supervisor, Town of Shelter Island

Hochul wrong on housing plan

To the Editor:

Gov. Hochul has included a housing initiative in her 2023 budget that I believe is wrong for Shelter Island. I applaud the governor’s desire to address a critical problem, but usurping home rule, including local zoning, will do more harm than good. This initiative does not consider our aquifer, zoning and lack of infrastructure, and will cost more than the benefit of the housing it hopes to create.

In the initiative, our new housing growth target is 3%, which includes any new housing, not just affordable new units. For Shelter Island, that equates to 80 new units over the next three years.

Over the past three years, we have had 35 building permits for new construction and our Housing Plan calls for 10 affordable units in the next five years. Our historical growth and goals are a much more measured approach.

If the governor has her way, and in three years Shelter Island has not met her 80-unit target, developers could apply to the state to “Fast Track” projects not approved by the town and override our zoning code. This leaves many unanswered questions, such as: Can Suffolk County Department of Health limitations also be overridden? While the governor’s proposal includes property tax incentives to build accessory dwelling units, will bringing up to code and legalizing existing ones count towards our 80-unit minimum, or must it be only new construction?

There is a great deal more in the proposal, but my takeaway from attendance at the Association of Towns conference last week, was that across the state, no one spoke in favor of this. Apparently, Shelter Island isn’t the only town that fiercely guards home rule.

We all need to reach out to Gov. Hochul, Senator Palumbo and Assemblyman Thiele, and tell them to pull this from the budget.

AMBER BRACH-WILLIAMS, Councilwoman, Town of Shelter Island

Beyond party

To the Editor:

I am a lifelong Shelter Island resident, graduated from the Shelter Island School and received an associate degree in Applied Science and Business Management from the Wyoming Technical Institute.

I joined the Shelter Island Heights Fire Department and served 22 years; served on the Shelter Island Red Cross Ambulance for several years; and became a Shelter Island police officer in 1995 and enjoyed a blessed career until my retirement in 2018.

I am a member of the Shelter Island Lions Club and work for the town’s Senior Repair Program. From an early age I’ve had a sense of duty to serve this community and my calling to serve has led me to where I am today, a candidate for Town Council.

I am an avid jet skier and I cherish our waterways. My friend Toby Green and I managed to raise more than $37,000 in donations for Scleroderma research on behalf of my great-niece Julia Ceresnak who was diagnosed when she was 8. Ten years ago, I also created a trip with our town’s military veterans, in conjunction with Honor Flight Long Island, to visit their memorials in Washington D.C.

I will bring a commonsense approach, along with civility, and respect to lead our town forward. The economic burden of inflation has hurt many of us and I will be an advocate for fiscal responsibility because I understand that the power to tax also brings the power to destroy.

It’s imperative for our local government to listen to our community and be transparent so we can develop a well-rounded approach to issues such as water quality, zoning, and housing.

Our island’s issues go beyond party affiliation. Solving them requires critical thinking and leadership and these are the skills I would bring to the Town Board.

TOM CRONIN, Shelter Island

Mr. Cronin is a candidate for election in November to the Town Board on the Republican line.

For Art

To the Editor:

When it comes to describing Art Williams as a candidate for the Town Board, one can say, “Experience matters.”

Art served an amazingly productive two terms as supervisor from 2001 to 2005. While his accomplishments were many, most know him as a lifelong resident of the Island for almost 70 years. After summering here for 40 years, he moved to the Island full time in 1993, starting his family and accounting practice with former spouse Amber Brach-Williams.

Their two daughters, Ivy and Felicity, were raised here and attended the Shelter Island School.

Art, a CPA, previously worked in the New York office of a “Big Four” accounting firm, specializing in financial services. He later joined the money management group of Deutsche Bank, as a vice president and controller. He currently publishes two local magazines on the North and South forks.

Many know Art for his contribution of time and talent to many nonprofit organizations, including The Island Gift of Life Foundation, the American Red Cross, Shelter Island Educational Foundation, Shelter Island Association, and Friends of the Shelter Island Library. He coached Shelter Island Youth Soccer and is a past commodore of the Shelter Island Yacht Club.

As supervisor, Art’s initiatives improved many areas of Island life, protecting the environment and aquifer, enhancing public safety, creating new programs for seniors and youth, and installing the Channel 22 platform for televising Town Board meetings.

While some of these initiatives were extremely controversial at the time — erecting the cell tower, and financing the replacement of the old highway building — his open style of communication and building consensus led to the completion of these two projects that are vital to our everyday life.

Sharing a vision of public service with Amber Brach-Williams and Tommy Cronin, Art looks forward to working with them on the Town Board.

JULIA WEISENBERG, Shelter Island Republican Committee

Code enforcement issue in Near Shore District

To the Editor:

Presently before the ZBA is a request by the zoning enforcement officer for the ZBA to interpret the zoning section of the Near Shore District as it relates to the rear yard setbacks from the shore-line to see if there should be enforcement under its section 133-12F or just the wetlands ordinance. 

There is duplication of the prohibition of buildings within the vegetative buffer of 75’ from the shoreline between 133-12F(2) and the Wetlands ordinance (Section 129-2). That is a valid concern.

However, 133-12F(3) is much more restrictive wherein it says a building with a shower or toilet is strictly prohibited unless it is more than 100’ from the shoreline.

This section of the code should still be enforced separately. The Wetlands Code section makes it permissible to put such a building within the 75-100’ distance from the shoreline as long as you get a wetlands permit as that area is regulated. 

However, the criteria to obtain a wetlands permit is different and more flexible, with less scrutiny, than the criteria to obtain a variance from the ZBA. The stricter standard of 133-12F(3) should be enforced.

The ZBA should take note of these two differences when it decides its jurisdiction of the rear yard setback within the Near Shore District. If it lumps 133-12F(3) with F(2) then Shelter Island will lose the additional protection of the present prohibition of no building with a shower or toilet unless it is beyond 100’ from the shoreline without a separate variance from the ZBA.

This matter will be decided at the March 15 ZBA hearing, although no required public notice was been published on this important ZBA interpretation that will affect all future rear yard building in the Near Shore District.


Editor’s Note: The ZBA meeting on March 15 is a work session, not a hearing. The hearing was closed by a unanimous vote at the Feb. 15 meeting, allowing for written comments only until March 8. A vote could occur at the March 15 regular ZBA meeting.

Creating a community

To the Editor:

I was saddened to read the lonely letter, “Reckless Abuse,” in last week’s Reporter, ushering in another season of abusing the truth about Island housing.

To address its points, although “multiple dwelling properties” (technically “accessory dwelling units” or ADUs) are mostly illegal, they already abound on the Island, against the “rules.” I lived in one all last year; a ranch house that had been converted into two apartments, plus a cottage.

The grant that the writer refers to would provide funds to upgrade similar spaces for habitation, since many are unsafe. The “rules” exist to protect inhabitants, but it seems clear that this particular rule needs to be changed.

New spaces must comply with Article 6 in the Suffolk County Sanitary Code, which regulates the amount of sewage that can be discharged into one acre of land. The town had been making a case to transfer unused “sewage credits” (not “building rights”) from undeveloped, preserved open space to sites where affordable (not “high density”) housing might be built.

As to impacting potable water from the aquifer, the town analyzes water demand for every housing project on the Island. As a result, sometimes the town requires new dwellings to install smaller capacity well pumps and water storage tanks to lessen aquifer impacts.

Several current building projects on the Island are so huge that they might also be labeled “high density” housing. Should these homes be approved, while ADU’s are not?

It’s a state-wide fact that we are in a housing crisis, and that communities like ours will experience “brain drain” because the diversity of low-income people can’t afford to live here. Housing is not just about providing a place to live — it’s about creating a community where culture is valued.