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Shelter Island tables business zoning issue

An effort to clarify Shelter Island’s zoning code over the ability of businesses to expand into adjoining residential property led to a packed town board meeting on Friday and a decision to table the board’s resolution for further study.

The town board had been asked to clarify the point by the town's Zoning Board of Appeals, which last year faced a problem when a business purchased an adjoining residential lot, then built a driveway on it.

The board decided that was an improper commercial use. The business owner sued — the case is still pending in State Supreme Court — and the town board was asked to clarify the situation. The result was a proposed amendment to the code, but one that seemed to raise more questions than it resolved.

One provision, for example, said a nonconforming business would have to be abandoned if there was a “substantial discontinuance” for a year or more. But that term was not defined.

In addition, the local Chamber of Commerce opposed the law, saying it would become difficult for anyone to invest in a business operating on a residential parcel as a pre-existing use or one locked in by residential land, with no hope of expansion.

The chamber also said that the measure could businesses whose owners die, arguing that it could take more than a year to resolve a will in probate, after which there could be no business to inherit.

Some residents, however, supported the measure, arguing that if businesses were allowed to expand onto residential properties, they could simply buy adjoining parcels and get bigger and bigger, changing a neighborhood.

The town board said several times that it would not yet be making any decisions on the proposed code change and might create a committee to review it.

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