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Shelter Island Reporter editorial: Yes, to large building moratorium

We tip our hat to Town Board members who plan to use a moratorium to delay special permit applications to construct structures exceeding the 5,999 square feet of living space allowed by the code.

Town Attorney Stephen Kiely noted an increase in 2022 of these applications exceeded the number that had been sought between 2018 and 2021.

Left unchecked, there is evidence the upward trend of the applications would continue and would not only change the community character of the Island, but likely interfere with efforts to create needed affordable housing before “the trade parade” of workers becomes even more pronounced than it is.

Councilman Jim Colligan has said people are gaming the system, asking for more space than they really want and then “compromising” by reducing the ask, but still exceeding the code.

The impact on the character of neighborhoods and the potential effect of the town’s fragile aquifer begs for relief. A major section of the Comprehensive Plan deals with zoning and land use.

Many of those who have spoken about or entered concerns about the subject online have indicated a desire to stop the increase of large houses here.

Whether the Comprehensive Plan will be completed and adopted by the end of the year, as two of the three Task Force members hope, or will extend into 2024, putting a stop to these applications that often obtain requested variances appears to be a good strategy.

Despite the sense of this moratorium, it may not pass muster with the Suffolk County Planning Commission, which has been taking a hard line on such a strategy. The Island’s representative to the Commission, Elizabeth Galle, warned this week that her colleagues have not liked the idea of interfering with property owners’ rights.

They’ve been hard on Greenport recently, and after a few months of meetings, it’s still unclear whether our neighboring municipality’s request for a six-month moratorium will be granted.

Shelter Island and Greenport have the ability to override Commission decisions by a super vote of four of their five members should the county reject the strategy.

We encourage the Island’s Town Board to take such action if the County Commission renders a negative decision.