By Andrew Wroblewski
In response to “political abuse” Huntington Councilman Eugene Cook said he faces from a town-initiated lawsuit, the councilman assembled a seminar focusing on land-use and investment regulations Tuesday night, which drew more than 50 people.
“This is because of 792 Larkfield Road and the abuse that the town has put me through, which, obviously, I believe is a political abuse,” Cook said of his motivation to recruit attorneys Tom Horn and Lawrence Kelly to speak at VFW Post 1469 in Huntington Station.
Sag Harbor-based attorney Horn, and Kelly, of counsel with Horn’s law office, spoke about New York’s Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code, which they said restricts local municipalities’ ability to enforce standards that are “more restrictive” than the uniform code.
Kelly said that municipalities, including Huntington, choose to ignore certain aspects of the uniform code, such as informing people that they have the right to appeal summonses directly to the New York Department of State.
“If he didn’t have an election coming up, that’s what we were telling Gene Cook to do. Go to the department of state,” Kelly said. “It [the uniform code] gives the citizen a weapon against municipal overreach.”
Currently, Cook,and his business partners at TGJ 2014 LLC await trial for town-issued summonses that resulted from an investigation centering on a piece of property TGJ purchased last year at 792 Larkfield Road in East Northport. The home has drawn concern from the town due to its longtime use as a five-family rental home on a single-family zoned property.
Huntington alleges the home is in violation of code – partly due to work that was done to a staircase at the front of the home without a permit or certificate of occupancy – and therefore a “letter in lieu” protecting the five-family use is no longer valid. Cook has said the staircase existed when TGJ – comprised of Cook, Commack-based attorney Josh Price and Huntington real estate broker Tim Cavanaugh – purchased the home in October 2014 and that only improvements were made, not violating code.
Town-appointed investigator Edward Guardaro of Westchester-based law firm Kaufman, Borgeest & Ryan could not immediately be reached for an update on the case proceedings by press time Wednesday. TGJ’s attorney, Northport-based Edward Yule, also couldn’t be reached.
Cook said he believes the case won’t advance until after Election Day. In an interview Wednesday, Cook added that Suffolk Sixth District Court Judge Linda Kevins rejected TGJ’s request to have the case dismissed. He said TGJ and the town would meet Oct. 29 to schedule a court date.
Cook’s seminar ended in a flurry of comments and concerns from audience members, many of whom identified themselves as real estate professionals, in response to housing regulations Huntington has passed over the last five months.
“What can we do, as citizens, as Realtors, as people in the community? Because the town is just going haywire with these laws,” said one woman who spoke at the seminar, but later requested to remain anonymous.
Some criticized Huntington for requiring single-family rental houses to be registered with the town, a law the town board adopted in May.
“The law is designed to ensure people rent houses that are habitable,” A.J. Carter, Huntington town spokesman, said Wednesday.
Others criticized a law passed Oct. 6 that requires a special-use permit for homeowners to create owner-occupied two family homes in R-5 Residence Districts. The law’s sponsor, Councilwoman Tracey Edwards said after the Oct. 6 town board meeting that change is meant to give “a consistent approach to how we treat housing.”
“Today, if you were going to put in an accessory apartment, your neighbors would have an opportunity to provide community input. But if you were to construct a two-family home in an R-5 zone, as long as you have over 10,000 square feet and health department approval, you do not have to have community input,” she added. “I think that’s inconsistent.”