Three violations hold up against North Fork Housing Alliance for fire-damaged house

The Greenport Planning Board last Thursday upheld three of five violations brought against North Fork Housing Alliance relating to its fire-damaged Second Street house.

At the same time, the planners dismissed one violation and put a fifth on hold pending another visit to the property by village building inspector Eileen Wingate.

The housing alliance plans to appeal the violations to the Village Board, said NFHA director Tanya Palmore. The planning board ruled that the building was partially destroyed with damaged windows and doors by the August 2008 fire and subsequent exposure to the elements; the paint on the building is cracked, blistering and “unsightly” and exterior walls are in disrepair and also unsightly.

A fourth complaint dealing with vermin in the house and yard was dismissed after Ms. Wingate said animal control officers found no sign of rats, raccoons or other pests.

Ms. Wingate asked that the fifth violation — dealing with the condition of exterior trim, stairways, handrails and balconies — be tabled until she could reinspect the property and make a recommendation to the planners.

Prior to the Planning Board votes, housing alliance board member Ed Reale said that while he understood neighbors’ frustrations with the long-delayed rebuilding of the structure, the village shared some of the fault for failing to issue building permits that would have allowed work to be done.

“There’s something else going on,” Mr. Reale said. “I’m not sure what that is.”

He said he believed Ms. Wingate has been conscientious in trying to move the project ahead, but implied that pressure might be coming from unidentified sources to keep building permits from being issued. He also blamed the village Historic Preservation Commission for failing to move the project forward by making a decision on some brackets that were to be used in the rebuilding.

When Ms. Palmore and architect Garret Strong came before the HPC, they were told the project as outlined was acceptable, with the proviso that once the alliance decided on the brackets they would have to secure approval prior to installation.

Mr. Reale was also critical of Trustee David Murray, who said at a recent Village Board meeting that nothing he saw during the inspection of the property by two engineers — one hired by the alliance and the other by the village — changed his mind about the need to have the building demolished.

Mr. Murray “doesn’t buy 60 to 70 years of engineering experience,” Mr. Reale said, referring to the reports from both engineers that found the structure could be rebuilt.

“You can’t issue a notice of violation and then prevent us from taking action.”

In a subsequent letter to Planning Board chairwoman Lara McNeil, Mr. Reale questioned the legality of the Planning Board adjourning to an executive session to discuss the issues prior to voting.

He called it “blatant disregard” for the state Open Meetings Law, saying there is no litigation pending regarding the notices of violation. The law provides the public with the right to observe official deliberations, except when the topic is litigation or personnel matters.

“Since the secret discussions with the village attorney go to the heart of the issue before the Planning Board and since it is the very actions of the village attorney that are the subject of this entire morass, it is my view, not only that the Planning Board blatantly violated the Open Meetings Law, but also that the Planning Board’s determinations on the Notice of Violation are invalid,” Mr. Reale wrote.

Mr. Prokop couldn’t be reached for comment.

Eric Bressler, representing the Second Street neighbors, argued that it was “typical” of the housing alliance to blame “everyone but themselves” for the long delays. He called it “utter nonsense” for the alliance to argue it didn’t know what was expected to fix the violations.

“They knew what the problems were. They didn’t do anything about them,” Mr. Bressler said. He also argued that failure to rebuild the structure within one year of the fire meant the alliance no longer had the right to operate it as a three-family structure. Current zoning permit only a two-family house, he said.

“They’re not entitled to a building permit for what they’ve asked for,” Mr. Bressler added.

The Village Board could potentially hear the alliance’s appeal on the three violations during its work session on Monday, Sept. 19, or its regular meeting on Sept. 26.

[email protected]