Shelter Island Town officials have passed a three-month moratorium on dock...

Shelter Island Town officials have passed a three-month moratorium on dock permits. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

A growing number of applications for docks in bays and harbors along Shelter Island’s shoreline has  raised concerns among town officials about the long-term environmental impacts and safety.

The town board on Monday adopted a three-month moratorium on dock permit approvals, a pause officials said gives them time to revise the town code in the face of accelerated waterfront development.

The board approved the moratorium in a 3-1 vote.

Members of the town’s Waterways Management Advisory Council, which examines applications for docks, bulkheads and moorings, are working on code revisions. They want to create new guidelines for docks that factor in environmental conditions and the appropriateness of certain locations, according to the council's chairman, William Geraghty.

Approval of a dock permit falls to the town board, which hasn’t always followed the advisory council’s recommendations on permits.

Town officials are trying to address differences between what could negatively impact the environment and what is legally permitted under the code, differences that sometimes have led the advisory council to recommend against a permit before the town council then grants it — with an eye toward possible litigation.

Before one dock permit vote last year, former town Supervisor Gerard Siller cited the likelihood of a lawsuit if Shelter Island officials denied the application since it appeared legal under the code. Advisory council members had said the area in question was hazardous and not environmentally sound for dock installations.

“It's like a broken record,” Siller said at the October meeting, before town board members narrowly approved the dock permit. “We need to change the code.”

Town Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams said in an interview Tuesday the town has faced “trickier” applications in recent years as homeowners seek to build docks in environmentally sensitive locations not previously considered.

When Geraghty presented his case for a moratorium in November, he said the advisory council reviewed 18 dock applications — 12 of which required a variance — between August 2022 and July 2023. The advisory council reviewed eight applications in 2019, six of which required variances, he said.

The town couldn't immediately provide numbers Wednesday for the total number of docks on the island or the number of dock permit applications in all recent years.

The moratorium includes residential and commercial properties, and follows a similar pause the board approved last year on special permits for single-family houses of more than 5,999 square feet.

Town officials at the time said the housing permit pause would provide time to reevaluate outdated zoning regulations and examine the impact of mega-mansions on community character, the environment and water quality. The town has since extended that moratorium, which now will run until early May, according to Brach-Williams.

Both moratoriums speak to the changing demographics of the island as more affluent residents move to the area and officials try to balance property rights of homeowners with protecting the environment, officials said. 

“People come out and they want what they want,” Brach-Williams added.

She said the town has seen applications for docks in areas officials believe will be “harder to withstand Mother Nature.”

Councilwoman Margaret Larsen cast the lone no vote Monday night on the moratorium.

Larsen said in an email she believes the advisory council has been making steady progress on code revisions but she was concerned a moratorium would extend the process longer than needed. 

The town originally considered a six-month moratorium. But in a January report, the Suffolk County Planning Commission, which reviewed the proposal, urged the board to start at three months.

 Town attorney Stephen Kiely said last week he was confident the town could extend the dock moratorium by three months if needed.  

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