CARA LORIZ PHOTO | After a discussion on coastal zone rules, James Eklund described the history of the Ram’s Head Inn dock, which a recent survey shows sits on town land.
The timetable for rules to protect the Island’s causeways was upset this week when the Town Board learned that proposed code changes would require a full State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) report.That could take months, Town Attorney Laury Dowd said at Tuesday’s weekly work session at Town Hall. A moratorium barring construction on low-lying properties within the Undeveloped Coastal Barrier District is set to expire March 31, approximately one year from when it was adopted.
“We are recommending that on the 25th of February, we set a hearing to extend the moratorium,” board member Chris Lewis said Tuesday. But the moratorium extension may be narrowed to the Ram Island causeways only, the current focus of the town’s pending legislation.
The Town Board has eyed new rules for developing coastal lands since a Zoning Board approved a rebuild project for the only house on the First Causeway early last year. Since then, a task force has studied the issue, and a law to tighten the rules for all Undeveloped Coastal Barrier District lands went to a public hearing in December. The scope of that law was too broad, many residents said, and the board refocused, proposing to create a separate zone for the causeways.
Creating that new zone is considered a Type 1 action according to SEQRA (Section 617 of New York State Environmental Conservation Law). Any Type 1 action requires a full Environmental Impact Statement. Type 1 actions include changing the allowable uses within any zoning district, affecting 25 or more acres of the district.
Ms. Lewis and Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty met Tuesday morning with representatives from the Group for the East End, who recommended that the town hire a consultant to help with the SEQRA report, a consultant who does not frequently appear before the board on behalf of private property owners. That suggestion, delivered by Ms. Lewis, elicited a negative reaction from councilmen Ed Brown and Glenn Waddington as well as Town Hall regulars Emory Breiner and Paul Shepherd.
“For the same reason you don’t want to use an environmentalist who’s represented private homeowners, you don’t want to hire someone who works for Group for the East End,” Mr. Breiner said.
Jeremy Samuelson of the Group for the East End explained that his organization’s interest in the law was no different than the public’s. The town should consider any number of consultants, he said; the one he recommended, a former East Hampton official expert in both environmental and municipal law issues, was not on his group’s payroll. “Some qualified person is going to have to guide the town through the process of SEQRA,” he emphasized.
Board members indicated that they wouldn’t exclude any contractor from consideration. “We want to get to a piece of law that we can be proud of, that citizens have participated in, and that stands up to any legal challenges,” Mr. Dougherty said.
Ms. Dowd encouraged board members to continue their review of draft laws pertaining to the causeway zone and wetlands code. The SEQRA report will look at the impacts of those specific laws, she said.
CAUSEWAY DOCK ON TOWN LAND
COURTESY V. NOVAK | The dock used by the Ram’s Head Inn sits on Middle Har-Bay Road, an undeveloped “paper” road owned by the Town of Shelter Island.
A new issue, at least to the public sessions of the Town Board, brought attention to one particular piece of the causeway — the land under the Ram’s Head Inn dock.
The Ram Island Association (RIA) has been in a dialogue with the town for about a year (in executive session, Mr. Dougherty acknowledged), after it learned that the inn’s dock was likely sitting on public, not private land.
A recent survey conducted by the town showed that the dock was built on Middle Har-Bay Road, an undeveloped “paper” road owned by the Town of Shelter Island.
James Eklund explained the history of the dock. He acknowledged that after he purchased the inn in the 1980s, he bought the dock adjacent to the inn property, but not the land under it. He has maintained the dock for decades in accordance with town approved permits. But the question isn’t whether he owns the dock but whether he can use the land it’s built upon.
“The state constitution prohibits the use of public properties for private purposes,” RIA attorney Frank Isler said Tuesday. “We are concerned about that violation of state law.” The board does not have the authority to say that mistakes were made by the town that would justify continued use, he added.
“We aren’t making any claim that we own the land,” Mr. Eklund said, just the dock. “Have you ever paid taxes” on the dock, Ms. Lewis asked. No, he answered.
“What are the town options on this?” Mr. Waddington asked. Ms. Dowd and Ms. Lewis listed a few: to sell the property to the Eklunds, which would require declaring it to be surplus property; to lease the property to them; to require that the dock be torn out and moved to Ram’s Head Inn property; or to demand that it be made available for public use.
“It is clear we can’t give it away,” Mr. Dougherty said, adding, “We are guardians of the town’s assets and this is a town asset, apparently,”
“Which for 35 years has been taken care of by somebody else,” Ms. Lewis replied.
Town Councilman Peter Reich, Mr. Eklund’s business partner, recused himself from the discussion.
The Town Board continued discussions of these topics at the February 1 meeting:
• Congdon Creek dock rules;
• Minor increases to some commercial building permit fees;
• A planned move of FIT Center equipment to St. Gabe’s Retreat House from early May to Labor Day;
• Allowing paved driveways engineered to prevent runoff in nearshore areas; and
• Two pieces of draft legislation, one on construction site plans to prevent runoff (under the MS4 program), and the other on expansions of non-conforming businesses. Both draft laws are available for viewing on the town website, shelterislandtown.us, under the “Upcoming Hearings and Laws” tab.