Supervisor pitches ways to support local business

Supervisor Scott Russell addressed the North Fork Chamber of Commerce during its meeting Friday. (Cyndi Murray photo)
Supervisor Scott Russell addressed the North Fork Chamber of Commerce during its meeting Friday. (Credit: Cyndi Murray)

Addressing members of the business community Friday, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the town is keeping commerce in mind as it crafts new policy.

Mr. Russell pitched ideas while also requesting input on legislation from the business community during the North Fork Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast meeting at Six Three One in Southold.

“I am getting a healthy dose [of opinions] for the residential community and I need input from the business community,” Mr. Russell said.

Chamber members were happy to oblige, voicing their stance on short-term rentals and a proposed ban on plastic bags in town.

Here are the highlights:

Short-term rentals

Regulating short-term rentals is a top priority for the town in 2015, Mr. Russell said.

Frustrated residents have been coming out in droves to voice opposition to websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway that allow homeowners to lease their properties for a brief as one night. Residents complain the homes have become hotel-like operations that are disrupting otherwise quiet neighborhoods.

On the flip side, however, more people means more business for local proprietors, business owners argued Friday. They also said homeowners renting rooms should be held to the same standards as a bed and breakfast. For example, they said, it is unfair for a bonafide hospitality business to be burdened with the county’s hotels and motels tax, while homeowners that rent rooms are not required to pay a similar fee.

“It is good for the local businesses to have the increased traffic but we do need to keep it on the same playing field as what the B&Bs go through,” said Joe Corso of Peconic Retreat.

While Mr. Russell said the town could not affect the county’s taxing, Legislature Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) told the audience he has been working with county lawmakers to amend the tax when it is up for renewal next year.

On the local level, North Fork Chamber of Commerce president Tom Scalia said the group would begin drafting and later present its official position on regulating short-term rentals to the Town Board.

Plastic bag bans

Mr. Russell told chamber members the town would not impose a ban on the use of plastic retail bags. At least, not until the rest of the region adopts a similar policy.

Mr. Russell said the cost of paper bags is almost seven times the cost of single-use plastic bags, and it was too much to ask of small businesses.

“I have a hard time layering those cost on local businesses that are already trying hard to compete with the purchasing power of the western giants in Riverhead,” he said. “We are hoping for a regional approach. That would put all business on the same playing field.”

His remarks come nearly five months after residents overwhelmingly favored a ban during a forum hosted by the town. The town’s decision to put the brakes on the law, however, was well received by chamber members Friday.

“Your approach is nice,” said Robert Scott, owner of Robert’s Jewelers. “I don’t want to have to do it if the town next to me isn’t doing it.” 

Opening up more areas to business 

The town is currently drafting legislation that would allow businesses to open in areas where zoning has traditionally prevented it, specifically church properties.

As an increasing number of church buildings are being put on the market in Southold Town, the board is aiming to craft a law that would allow commercial businesses to purchase and operate in those buildings.

The law would allow potential buyers to apply for special exceptions in the code that allow town-approved adaptive reuses for such buildings. Some suggested reuses include turning the buildings into apartment units, B&Bs and indoor farmers markets.

Additionally, the Town Board is drafting another code change to expand the town’s designated agricultural zone. This would pave the way for companies like Celestial Shrimp, which would currently only be allowed in the town’s marine district. Owners Todd and Tess Gordon are hoping to construct a freshwater shrimp farm, where up to 300 to 400 pounds of shrimp could be harvested weekly. However they would needs the board’s approval to build the farm outside the marine zone.

“When the code was written it didn’t anticipate these business models,” Mr. Russell said. “If there are issues there that are not in the code, bring them to us because we need to update the code with these new business models and incorporate them somehow.”

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