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Town Code

A Larkfield Road home is at the center of a lawsuit by its two former owners against Town of Huntington, Councilman Eugene Cook and his two business partners. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Two former East Northport landowners are suing Huntington Town, Councilman Eugene Cook (R) and his two business partners for $5 million over alleged loss of property rights.

A federal lawsuit filed Sept. 11 in U.S District Court for the Eastern District of New York claims that town officials have intentionally overlooked zoning code violations at a multi-family home on Larkfield Road — but only after it was purchased by TGJ 2014 LLC in 2014. The company is owned by Cook and two business partners, Huntington real estate agent Timothy Cavanagh and Commack attorney Joshua Price.

The former homeowners, Mary Ann Dellinger, of Huntington, and her brother, Carmen Tomeo, allege the town officials’ efforts to unfairly enforce zoning codes on the five-family dwelling caused them to lose money in the sale, according to their attorney Christopher Cassar. The house was purchased for $400,000 by TGJ 2014.

“This house was their primary asset,” Cassar said.

The plaintiffs claim the Larkfield Road home’s use as a multi-family dwelling predates the creation of Huntington Town code in 1934, according to court documents. Cassar said the family has a March 11, 2007 letter from the town which grandfathered the property’s right to be legally occupied as a five-family residence.

The lawsuit alleges town code enforcement officers began to issues summonses in 2012 against the property owners demanding it be returned to a single-family home, despite earlier promises.

“Town of Huntington has permitted and tolerated a pattern and practice of unjustified, unreasonable and illegal use of the enforcement of town code against the plaintiffs,” the lawsuit reads.

Cassar said the town’s actions caused Dellinger and Tomeo to have difficulty selling the house, as two prior deals fell through. One potential buyer would have paid $900,000 for the property, according to Cassar, half a million more than Cook and his partners paid.

The former homeowners also claim the $5 million sought is for damages including loss of income from the property, loss of property value, embarrassment, harrassment, loss of liberty and infringement of their property rights, according to court records.

In 2015, town officials  hired attorney Edward Guardaro Jr., of the firm Kaufman, Borgeest & Ryan LLP, to look into the East Northport house, to determine whether it was a legal rental and if the work being performed was legal.

Cassar said the town has issued a summons on the property, since Cook and his company took ownership, over issues with an exterior staircase and debris. However, the attorney said the town did not ever issue a code violation against it for being a multi-family dwelling.

Huntington has not been served with the lawsuit as of Sept. 20, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter, and he declined to comment further on the matter. Cook also declined to comment on the lawsuit after the Sept. 19 board meeting, as did Cavanagh. Price returned calls but did not comment on the matter.

Officials commend Smithtown on Friday for adopting the new geothermal code. From left to right, Michael Kaufman of Suffolk County Planning Commission; David Calone, chair of the county’s Planning Commission; Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio; Michael Voltz, director of energy efficiency and renewable energy at PSEG Long Island; and John Franceschina of the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

A new Smithtown code has already translated into some cash.

PSEG Long Island presented Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) with a $10,000 check last Friday for adopting a new model geothermal code.

The utility provided an incentive program for any Long Island township that embraced the new geothermal codes, which utilize the constant, belowground temperature to heat and cool buildings, and help homes save both energy and money. PSEG Long Island committed to provide implementation assistance of $10,000 to each township and $5,000 to the first 10 villages with a population greater than 5,000 in Suffolk and Nassau counties that adopted the model geothermal code by May 31.

This particular new geothermal code helps municipal and private industry installers streamline the evaluation and installation process of the geothermal system in Suffolk County and ensures high quality installations to protect the county’s groundwater.

Vecchio said he was proud that Smithtown was the first town to adopt the code.

“I believe it’ll be a wave of the future;  we want to be the first ones to allow this new energy to come in,” he said.

When PSEG Long Island and the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization unveiled the new energy code back in November, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stood with the organizations, urging towns to consider the adoption.

Smithtown’s Town Board voted in March to make Smithtown the first town in Suffolk County to adopt the new alternative energy geothermal code for residential and commercial properties.

This is not the first time Smithtown has been one of the firsts to adopt alternative energy codes, signing onto a model code crafted at the Suffolk County Planning Commission for solar energy. The model code helps municipalities evaluate proposed solar energy systems for both commercial and residential properties.

Back in March when Smithtown adopted the code, Michael Kaufman, of the county Planning Commission helped draft the model code and said he believed that Smithtown residents needed to act locally by going green as much as possible because of the energy crisis on Long Island, with Long Island having some of the highest electrical rates in the nation.

“There is an energy crisis on Long Island,” Kaufman said at a previous town meeting. “We have some of the highest electric rates in the entire nation. Fossil fuel energy has high costs and we have severe environmental costs when fossil fuels are used. Town of Smithtown residents need to think globally and act locally by going green as much as possible.”

From left, Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilwoman Connie Kepert, Councilmen Dan Panico and Neil Foley and town waste management officials Tim Timms, Frank Tassone and Frank Balsamo celebrate removing more than 1,500 illegal signs from town property. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Brookhaven Town announced on Monday that workers had removed more than 1,500 illegally posted signs from rights-of-way and utility poles in the year since the town adopted stricter laws on posting signs.

The town board banned all signs on public property last April in a unanimous move, after Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) introduced the tighter restriction.

Romaine had announced the idea during his 2014 State of the Town address, saying the ban would help clean up the town and bring local laws into step with federal regulations.

The outright ban on signs on town property replaced a rule previously on the books in Chapter 57A of the town code that faced a court challenge from a Mount Sinai business owner, who alleged it favored commercial speech over noncommercial speech. Brookhaven Town adopted its new regulations while that case was working its way through the courts, although the New York State Appellate Court ruled in favor of the town in December. The new code eliminated a requirement to notify violators before an illegal sign is removed.

Romaine and a few other town board members visited the Brookhaven landfill recently to mark the one-year anniversary of the new sign code and celebrate the town’s waste management department removing more than 1,500 illegal signs since the law’s enactment.

Violators of the town sign code face a $250 fine.