August Planning Board Meeting

Saturday, August 16, 2008

August Planning Board Meeting

Updated 08/17/2008 - 1:05 pm

It was a fairly short meeting, Thursday even­ing, but a far from uneventful one... and not, unfortunately, covered by The Press.

In a matter first calendared in January 2003 and which has been less than aggressively pursued by applicant Hampton Synagogue, attorney James N. Hulme, Kelly & Hulme, P.C., was asked to read into the record his letter of July 15th which outlined the issues involved with the conversion of the Rabbi's single-family dwelling to:

  • Offices for the Synagogue on the second floor;
  • A meeting hall on the first floor which will provide kosher catering of private events related to the Synagogue.

From Mr. Hulme's recitation several items of note were memorialized:

  1. Requirements of the original 1993 approvals by the Planning and Village Boards was that all garbage on the property at 154 Sunset Avenue was to be maintained in garbage cans rather than a dumpster in an enclosure.
  2. No commercial catering was to be per­mitted on the subject premises.
  3. It is Mr. Hulme's belief that, while con­cerns have been raised over "neighbor­hood parking," this is not a problem since "some use of the Bank parking lot" is available, and additionally, there is now "a municipal parking lot around the corner."

In respect to the latter, as Joe E. Lewis used to say:

"You can lead a horse to water, but if you can get him to lie down and float on his back in it, then you've got something!"

As was seen during WEEEF, people, regardless of creed, will take the shortest path, not just to the Synagogue but anywhere.

On that evening, after the lots at SCNB and Westhampton Steakhouse filled up, many elected to risk a parking ticket than use the Mill Road facility next to the Historical Society.

Whether the "commercial grade kitchen" with­in the already-converted Rabbi's dwell­ing for which nunc pro tunc approval is being sought, is being used for "commercial cater­ing" or, as Mr. Hulme asserts, the "re-heating of food pre­pared off-site," what is in­disputable is that the Synagogue in defiance of its orig­inal approvals, has a dumpster, has been using one for many years, and wishes to be allowed to continue use of that dumpster.

There are more dimensions to this issue than just a dumpster being where no dumpster was supposed to be... buffers, irrigation and drain­age requirements, etc.... and all of these items will have to be addressed by the applicant.

So too will the parking, and since Mr. Hulme's letter was "soft" on the issue of the agreement between SCNB and the Synagogue, it was sug­gested that the Planning Board might like to have an updated letter of understanding from the bank about the situation.

Big Deal on Old Riverhead Road

For the final agenda item, Village Attorney Hermon Bishop removed himself from the pro­ceedings, and Special Counsel Wayne Bruyn assumed the role as Board attorney in the matter of Westhampton Beach Associates, LLC., a/k/a the Muchnicks, who desire to ob­tain approval for 39 three-bedroom condos on the West side of Old Riverhead Road.

Although this was to be the first significant determination rendered by the Village on this project, on April 10th of this year Andrew J. Campanelli filed on behalf of the Muchnicks a $25 million Federal Civil Rights lawsuit against Westhampton Beach and individual members of Village Government.

With retiring Board member Barbara Ramsay absent and newest member Pamela Sheiffer not yet up to speed¹ on this protracted appli­cation, Chairman Ralph Neubauer should have informed Mr. Hulme, the Muchnicks' local at­torney of record, that since only three Board members would be participating in the decis­ion, all would be required to vote affirmatively for the resolution to be carried. This would have given Mr. Hulme the option of going for­ward, or requesting that the the matter be put over until the full Board was present.

This was likely an oversight on the part of the Chairman, but it's almost certain that, under the circumstances of Mrs. Ramsay's retire­ment, given the choice² Mr. Hulme would have opted to forge ahead that evening.

Over the next 20 minutes, attorney Bruyn and member Sundy Schermeyer took turns reading the 20+ pages of findings and determinations, at which point the Chairman moved the vote.

No one second the motion.

Silence.

Finally, Mrs. Schermeyer, having replenished her fluids from her bottled water, filled the void with a second.

The vote was taken, and with Member David Reilly's "No" recorded, the vote stood 2-1 with Ms. Sheiffer's anticipated abstention.

With three "Yes" votes required under law, this meant that the motion was not carried.

Stricken expressions and confusion carried the moment.

Then, from the audience, recused Attorney Bishop rose to offer a suggestion:

"Perhaps the members of the Planning Board would like to take five minutes and go into Executive Session."

(It's not certain about the propriety of Mr. Bishop making this suggestion... it could be said that he was acting as a private individual at that point... but what was inappropriate was going into Executive Session since it was clear what the pri­vate discussion was going to entail, and it wouldn't be about Personnel, pending Litigation or National Security.)

A brief Executive Session was held, however, and upon returning to the Board Room, Mr. Reilly muttered something about having had a point of law clarified for him, and asked that the vote be called anew.

The re-vote was... no surprise!... 3-0 with Ms. Sheiffer again abstaining; the Muchnicks had finally received their (conditioned) approvals.

How this impacts on their $25 million lawsuit is unknown, but the terms of one of the condi­tions is worth noting.

In an OtBB interview, the Muchnicks' Federal Civil Rights attorney, Andrew Campanelli, as­serted that he knew "to an absolute certainty the onerous conditions that were going to be imposed" on his client, that being that all con­struction work on the project had to be com­pleted within 12 months, and no extension would be given.

Such a condition would have been onerous, and unprecedented for a project that size, and the decision, as approved Thursday evening, set an extendable 18-month period³.

A final observation: given the laws involving Site Plan Applications, had the initial 2-1 vote stood, with the 62-day clock running, without a firm determination one way or the other, the Much­nicks' application would have been deemed to have been approved, without the imposition of any Planning Board conditions!

Notes

¹.- Nor would she, understandably, be enthusiastic about signing onto that $25 million lawsuit by participating in the decision.

².- Tricky business; with Mrs. Ramsay's term formally ending on September 1st, and former Chairman Victor Levy having been deposed in the First Hampton Party's annual post-election putsch, as a practical matter, Thursday evening's array of Neubauer, Schermeyer and Reilly was, for the Much­nicks' purposes, going to be as full as it gets.

³.- Certainly not a generous time-frame; in two Planning Board decisions rendered in July, each involving much smaller projects, one contained the same 18-month condition, and the other allowing 24 months.

Comments

1. Specialist said...

Dean,

Perhaps its the old eyes starting to fail or the brain that doesn.t function as well as it used to.

Are these condos approved... or just the site plan?

The site plan has been approved... by an eyelash when Mr. Reilly blinked.

I believe it goes to the Village Board now.
Dean

2. Hampton West said...

Pretty disturbing - Bishop excuses himself and then re-enters and voila! the vote changes. It really smells.

I once heard David Lynch - the movie director - say there is more corruption in small towns and villages then in any major U.S. city.

As for the Synagogue - given the eruv dispute - let's see how this one goes. I would think the Rabbi is in trouble with this one.

The vote on the offered resolution was what it was... 2-1-1... and therefore didn't carry. If Mr. Reilly, or any of the other participating Planning Board members, required clarification on a point of law or procedure, it should have been discussed within the regular session.

That said, the way it worked out was arguably the best for all concerned, but Westhampton Beach is a long way from "Twin Peaks" and this isn't Blue Velvet. Still, it will be interesting to see what... if anything... the Suffolk County DA's Political Corruption Unit comes up with.
Dean

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