Could Shelter Island be the new East Hampton – and should it be?
This summer, the sleepiest and most isolated corner of the East End, accessible only by ferry, is emerging as a red-hot real estate battleground and society scene – and not everyone’s convinced it’s a good thing.
In fact, what’s happening on the 29-square-mile island right now is shorthand for the challenges of so many resort towns around the country: How do you balance the need for investment, and new residents, with the pressures – social, economic and logistical – that an influx of incomers always creates?
“I’ve been going there all my life, twice a summer for the requisite lunch or bike ride, but I’d never considered it for more,” Valerie Mnuchin, sister of former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, told The Post. “But we’ve fallen in love with it.”
Mnuchin is now residing out East full time while she opens her first restaurant there this July. Dubbed Léon 1909, a casual Frenchified bistro, is a true family affair. Named after her grandfather, it’s a partnership with banker dad, Robert, whose hospitality expertise was finessed via his onetime ownership of Connecticut’s Mayflower Inn.
“I have a fancy name, but I’m not a fancy person, and not really a Hamptons person,” she said. “I love the ocean, the light, the simpler experience. My only concern is that Shelter Island will become too ramped up. ”
Nevertheless, Shelter Island is changing. The median price for a home in April on the island was $ 1.9 million, up 16.9% year on year, according to Realtor.com. Five years earlier, the median price was just $ 921,250, or less than half.
A brand-new, four-bedroom house at 8 Cobbetts Lane is the area’s most expensive listing at $ 13.75 million. But in 2018, the land on which the 6,000-square-foot stunner now sits traded for a mere $ 815,000.
The draw for these cash-rich newcomers to the island is at least in part due to a swath of new amenities, hotels and restaurants that are opening in the area this summer.
The Pridwin, for example, is a classic hotel overlooking Crescent Beach on the northern side of the island, which is now a partnership between the longtime owners of the Petry family and Cape Resorts.
Cape’s deep pockets helped fund a two-year reno for the 49-room hotel that reopened this month.
The Ram’s Head Inn also changed hands over the pandemic, and was renovated this winter, while the Chequit hotel is now in the hands of the Soloviev Group, helmed by NYC real estate tycoon Stefan Soloviev, son of the late developer Sheldon Solow. Cozily, his ex-wife Stacey will handle day to day operations of the newly reopened site. Renovated and expanded to 35 rooms, it will also feature three new restaurants.
Peter Humphrey, a former Wall Streeter and current real estate broker who lives on Shelter Island, gets the appeal.
“I’m a trader, so as an investment, it screamed ‘BUY,'” Humphrey said. “It was just vastly underpriced compared to the Hamptons. The housing stock was a lot of old homes that could be fixed up and whatnot. ”
But like their neighbors, they are now concerned that the island is moving too quickly.
“The community is going to have a little bit of an identity crisis: Are we a gated community for millionaires, or do we maintain that mix of people that has made it such an interesting place?” asked accountant Liz Hanley, 45.
She’s not a “harelegger” (Shelter Island speak for someone born here), but went to elementary school here before moving to the West Coast.
She and her 58-year-old husband David are now back full time, their three teen daughters in tow.
“None of my childhood friends were living on the island when we came back – they couldn’t afford it,” she lamented.
Upping the housing supply would ease pressure but it’s a controversial topic.
“It’s a struggle between the NIMBYs and the actual reality of economics around housing,” said Humphrey, “They really do resist adding housing. It’s tough. ”
It can also cause a fracas.
“We’ve had town board members challenge folks to go outside and have a fistfight over the issues – and these are not barroom brawler-type people, either, they have advanced degrees,” said one resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “Though it’s never actually reached that point.”
Short-term vacation rentals like Airbnb are also a hot topic here. The island’s government introduced regulations around short-term rentals in 2017, intended to protect year-round would-be renters from party-prone weekender types. But John Cronin, now 71, says the rule is no longer being enforced.
Staffing all of the hip new joints opening on island has also squeezed supply.
Mnuchin doesn’t shy away from these critiques and points out that as part of her investment she bought staff housing for the season to ensure that people could live and work here rather than, say, commute on the ferry at shift’s end to the mainland.
“Look, it gets my back up, too – it worries me,” she said. “What I fell in love with is what Shelter Island is now. Local people should be able to continue to run wonderful local businesses without having things taken over by the ‘Cidiots.’ That’s what they call us, and for good reason. Just look at East Hampton. ”
But this isn’t the first time Shelter Island has captured the imaginations of the rich and famous.
Back in 1997, hotelier André Balazs, then at his peak as the Pied Piper of chic, reopened a Shelter Island seaside motel as the buzzy Sunset Beach (he still operates it now), which gained a reputation for attracting those with deep pockets and questionable taste.
It remains the area’s undisputed party spot.
“Just because I’ve turned 60, doesn’t mean a 25-year-old doesn’t want to have their fun,” said Chris Tehan, who moved to Shelter Island as a young child.
“But the issue is that everything is so high-end. All the posh people don’t want ‘those people’ to even live here. ”