By Carina Livoti
Standing before a local civic group last week, Huntington Councilman Gene Cook spoke out against the recent controversy over the legality of and alleged code violations on a five-family home, of which he is part owner.
Two summonses were recently served on the East Northport home for alleged violations that Cook amounts to political retaliation.
“I believe that this is political payback,” Cook, who is up for reelection this fall, said.
Cook showed pictures of the home, which he owns with partners Tim Cavanaugh and Josh Price, to a small crowd at a meeting of the Greater Huntington Civic Group on May 28. The photos show an improved external appearance of the home since Cook and his partners purchased it in October 2014. In a separate interview, Cook said neighbors had been calling to thank him for the improvements.
The 792 Larkfield Road property currently has five tenants living in what he and his partners claim are five legal apartments, despite the fact that the home is zoned for a single-family use. He said there are no children living in the home, which the Elwood School District confirmed.
According to Cook, a “letter in lieu” acknowledging that the home predates the establishment of the town code in 1934 protects the house’s current use as a five-family dwelling. He showed the letter, dated March 11, 1997, at the meeting.
Town documents, however, indicate that the home had prior code violations and suggest the letter in lieu does not automatically allow the multi-family use.
Cook said he believes he is being targeted as payback for his request for a State Comptroller’s audit of the town in 2013.
After news of the alleged violations broke, the town board on April 21 hired attorney Edward Guardaro of Westchester’s Kaufman Borgeest & Ryan LLP to act as outside legal counsel on the issues surrounding the home. Since then, two summonses have been issued on the property, both concerning the legality of an outside metal staircase on the home. A court date has been set for June 10.
At the meeting, Cook showed an Aug. 21, 2014 survey of the home that showed the staircase.
“That staircase that they’re citing me for was already there. I have no problem proving this case in court, and I believe that come June 10, you will see the town do some kind of shenanigans so that it doesn’t have to go in front of a judge,” Cook said.
Cook also brought civil rights attorney Larry Kelly to speak at the civic meeting.
“When the town board made the decision that there was going to be a conflict on them having the town attorney represent them in any proceeding against Gene Cook, my question was: well what about the code enforcement official?” Kelly said.
Kelly pointed out other issues with the case, stating that a notice of demand for inspection filed on Dec. 11, 2014, was sent to the home’s address as opposed to the address of Cook, Cavanaugh, and Price’s LLC, which owns the house.
Cook has long maintained that he and his partners were not aware of any code violations at the time of the home’s purchase. He provided a document from Express Research Services from July 25, 2014, used to obtain title insurance on the home, which stated that the home had no violations.
Cook said Cavanaugh had looked at the file on the home prior to the trio’s purchase and felt confident that the letter in lieu covered the five-family use. The home also contained four separate electric meters, further indicating planned, individual apartments.
They also showed the file to a prominent Huntington real estate attorney, who Cook said affirmed the home was a legal five-family.
Cook, who has been investing real estate since he was 18, said that he has dealt with homes with complex files before, but felt comfortable with the purchase despite his position as an elected official.
“I thought that the truth – in fact I know that the truth – will always win. I’m going to fight it no matter what happens with the election,” he said.