Featured Story

Shelter Island Reporter editorial: Make the best, not the most expedient decisions

When the Town Board enacted a moratorium to stop accepting applications for structures that exceed the 5,999 square feet of living space, we applauded the move. It promised a thoughtful means of curbing a proliferation of large houses on the Island that was changing the character of many neighborhoods.

We looked forward to seeing how the effort would manage to balance property rights with the interests of surrounding communities.

As the end of the moratorium looms, we’re skeptical the steps outlined by Town Attorney Stephen Kiely will accomplish the intended goal.

At the center of the changes being recommended is ending the Town Board acting on special permit applications for larger structures and assigning the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to act on area variances. Mr. Kiely, who also serves as attorney for the ZBA, said he would advise members to give major consideration to how an application would affect the character of a neighborhood.

We fear the proposed change may not be enough to stop those who have been gaming the system for years. There are too many instances of applicants presenting development plans exceeding what they actually want. They “compromise” by scaling back to what they actually want. The result has been developments that are twice as large as what the code allows, often out of sync with surrounding houses.

We have heard people wonder why the ZBA finds ways to approve so many applications. It’s because they are bound by specific tests of each application and their job is to try to bring about a compromise between what is allowed by code and what the applicant is seeking. That still may be larger than what neighbors see as reasonable in many areas of town.

There were many alternative suggestions we thought might be more effective. One was to set firm limits based on lot size where larger structures could be accommodated without interfering with neighbors’ views and other concerns. That was coupled with not simply square feet of  living space, but the entire space, finished or not.

Part of the consideration would have to be the effect of the proposed construction on water quantity and quality.

We suspect that would have curbed the number of large structures in inappropriate areas.

We are intrigued by Mr. Kiely’s outline of a pyramid law he said would avoid either renovations or new construction from towering over existing houses. But we are also interested in hearing more from Deputy Supervisor Meg Larsen about an alternative she has been developing on the premise that the pyramid law would not achieve its aims, but her alternative would.

Before the Town Board acts, Ms. Larsen needs to be given time to expand her proposal and explain it clearly so the Town Board can compare it with the proposed pyramid law and make the best decision, not just the most expedient.