After more than a year of work session discussions about how to deal with the problems generated by Shelter Island businesses established in neighborhoods prior to residential zoning, the town board has updated regulations covering those businesses.

But the board decided not to act on a key provision regarding what happens to more than two dozen such properties -- known as pre-existing nonconforming use -- when the business closes, saying it needed further review.

Such businesses, which were there when the town changed its zoning code a half century ago, are an issue because tiny Shelter Island, which sits between the North and South forks, has little commercial space for its plumbers, electricians, lawn maintenance firms and carpenters. But over the years, those businesses have created conflicts with neighbors, who complain they can be noisy and unsightly.

The Shelter Island Association, a group of more than a dozen community organizations, sent a letter last week to the town, pointing out problems with nonconforming businesses, but also cautioning, "We do not want to penalize people whose businesses have been jeopardized" by circumstances beyond their control.

At a public hearing Friday, resident and Shelter Island Association member Don Bindler said he has personally seen businesses that have created eyesores when they stop operating.

"We see very clear evidence that it [the regulations] is needed on Shelter Island," he said.

On Friday evening, the Shelter Island Town Board voted 4-0 to clarify several points in its code, spelling out the fact that business owners may make repairs and modifications to their businesses, but not if those repairs have an impact on parking, lighting, noise or traffic, and not if they allow the business to offer services to the general public that were formerly limited only to its customers.

The town action also bans owners of such businesses from acquiring an adjoining lot and moving or expanding their business onto that site, and limits the expansion of any nonconforming business to its original physical area as of Oct. 19, 1959, the date of the original code. The area is defined as the building and any outdoor area used at the time the town adopted its zoning code. That limit can be waived if the town Zoning Board of Appeals decides to issue a special permit.

But, the board did not adopt a provision to end the nonconforming use if a business is closed for 24 months.

Under current town law, a business ceases to be a nonconforming use if it is not operating for one year.

Supervisor James Dougherty said the proposed change would create "a seven-year de facto extension" for the price of a few postage stamps.

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