Ethics Board Reviewing ZBA Chair

By Jano Tantongco

 Huntington Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Christopher Modelewski is pictured during a past ZBA meeting.

Huntington Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Christopher Modelewski is pictured during a past ZBA meeting.

A Cold Spring Harbor resident has asked the Huntington Town Board to review what he calls conflicts of interest involving the town’s zoning board of appeals chairman.

William Coden, who delivered a letter to the board Dec. 27, alleges that ZBA Chairman Christopher Modelewski colludes with Huntington-based real estate attorney Jimmy Breslin and Huntington-based RMS Engineering to rubber stamp applications.

Coden called the relationships between the three“glaring conflicts of interest,” citing the trio’s work outside Town of Huntington government, which includes work with applicants going before the Northport Village Board of Zoning Appeals.

Both Breslin and RMS engineers appear regularly before Huntington’s ZBA.

Coden said in an interview Tuesday that “it’s almost known by everybody in the Town of Huntington what goes on in the ZBA… I didn’t really believe that there was as much collusion as there really was until I witnessed it myself.”

Modelewski responded to the allegations, calling them “nothing more or less than an attack from someone who is dissatisfied with the governmental decision-making process.”

Modelewski held fast that there were no conflicts of interest regarding his work with RMS and/or Breslin.

Huntington’s Ethics Board has been tasked with reviewing Coden’s complaint. The board is next scheduled to meet tomorrow, 4 p.m., at Huntington Town Hall.

“The board of ethics has a statutory obligation to review and respond to the request from the supervisor. I expect they will do that,” Modelewski said. “I am confident that when they conclude they will find no violation.”

Coden appeared before the Huntington ZBA in September 2016 to oppose the joining of two lots, a move intended to accommodate truck parking for Sandbar restaurant in Cold Spring Harbor. In 2013, the ZBA approved the restaurant’s site plan and issued special use permits that allowed for a commercial driveway to operate in residential zoning on the condition that its delivery trucks would enter from Main Street and exit on the residential Spring Street.

Coden, who lives on Spring Street, claimed the trucks were instead entering and exiting on only Spring Street, often backing up and idling, creating safety hazards. In his letter, he said that “a commercial driveway had never been approved to pass into a residential neighborhood in the Town of Huntington.”

Coden believes that such a situation would not have occurred, unless the applicant hired Breslin and RMS to represent them before Huntington’s ZBA.

In his complaint filed with the Huntington ethics board, Coden cited three cases that Modelewski worked on with either RMS or Breslin on behalf of applicants to the Northport Village zoning board.

One case included the application for a variance to allow rooftop dining for Skipper’s Pub, in which Modelewski served as the attorney for applicant Paul Gallowitsch, while RMS served as engineers for the applicant.

A second case involved a residential variance, and a third involved an application for a brewery and retail store. Breslin worked with Modelewski on the residential case as a real estate expert.

In an interview Wednesday, Breslin called Coden’s allegations “baseless” and noted that both the Skipper’s and residential applications were denied by the Northport Village zoning board.

“I’ve probably done 2,000 zoning cases in my career, working for attorneys all throughout Long Island, many of whom were town attorneys in other places, zoning board people, zoning attorneys working in other places. It’s very, very common that that situation exists,” Breslin said.

He added that in the 23 years that Modelewski has been practicing, Breslin served as a real estate expert with him around “five to 10 times.”

“I think it’s upsetting that people write letters like that, casting aspersions on people when they don’t really know any better,” Breslin said.

RMS officials did not respond for comment by Wednesday’s deadline.