By Carina Livoti
The Town of Huntington has issued two summonses on a rental home co-owned by Town Councilman Gene Cook.
According to the April 30 summonses, a new, exterior metal stairway was added to the 792 Larkfield Road property in East Northport without a permit or a certificate of occupancy.
The summonses came after the town on April 21 hired an outside attorney to investigate the legality of the home’s current use as a five-family home, as well as all matters concerning the property’s code compliance. The town has contracted with Edward Guardaro Jr., of Kaufman Borgeest & Ryan LLP’s Westchester office, in order to avoid any potential conflicts of interest that would be presented by an internal investigation.
Guardaro said he was retained as “conflict counsel” because of the town attorney’s difficult position in matters concerning town councilpeople.
The property, which is zoned as a single-family dwelling, is currently being used to house five families. Questions over whether the use is in compliance with town code were ongoing prior to Cook and his partners’ acquisition of the home in October 2014.
Cook, along with Commack attorney Josh Price and Douglas Elliman Real Estate agent Tim Cavanaugh, formed a limited liability company June 27, 2014 and bought the residence on Oct. 15, 2014. Cook and his partners claim that the home’s use as a multi-family dwelling predates both their ownership of the property and the establishment of Huntington’s town code, which was established in 1934.
They argue that a letter in lieu issued by the town in March 1997 acknowledging that the home predates town code protects its current use. A letter in lieu is issued instead of a certificate of occupancy if a building was constructed before the town code was established.
In town documents, however, ordinance inspectors say that the letter in lieu does not legalize multi-family use and that the owners must instead approach the Zoning Board of Appeals to grant the use or convert the home to a single-family use.
According to Guardaro, conflicting files are not unusual among older homes.
“[Files on homes] are all like this. It’s one of the oldest homes in the area; it predates history. It’s before any zoning; it’s before any codes,” he said.
Since the outside firm was hired, the only action or summonses issued have been the two regarding the stairway. The observations on the stairway summonses are dated from Oct. 27, 2014, barely two weeks after Cook, Price, and Cavanaugh took ownership of the property.
Guardaro said that the gap of time between the observations and the summonses was not uncommon.
“I think the process oftentimes involves a lot of communication before—a summons is a sort of a marker for timeframes that the parties use just to keep issues on track on the calendar,” he said.
Guardaro said that he was only concerned about the staircase at the moment, which he said was noted by a town inspector when she was on site at a neighboring property and saw the open and visible staircase.
“It’s a multifaceted file, like many, many homes. When they come under corporate structure [they come under scrutiny]… but the issue on top of everything is the staircase. Our point is to try to work with the owners and resolve any issues; I’m trying to communicate with people to try to resolve what is a normal everyday issue in town governance,” he said.
Cook and his associates are set to appear in the Third District Court in Huntington Station on June 10 at 9 a.m. to address the summonses. Guardaro said the appearance was merely to facilitate communication between the parties involved and was in no way an adversarial proceeding.