Mixed views on code changes at Southold Town hearings

The public’s response to two new measures proposed by Southold Town to curb blight on properties seems like night and day.

At separate hearings Tuesday night, residents spoke in favor of a proposed law aimed at enforcing property maintenance standards. But most were critical of reducing the time a site plan is valid from three years to 18 months and requiring developers to post performance bonds to ensure they get the work done.

Attorney Patricia Moore, who represents many developers before the town Planning Board, said she’s witnessed abuse of process on the part of boards in the town over the past 20-plus years. She added that it often takes the Planning Board several months to sign off on the process.

Ms. Moore said she believed many builders did not show up for the hearing because it was Valentine’s Day.

“I’m letting you know how most of my clients would feel,” she said. “There are times when they get community pressure or a difference of opinion … I’ve seen how projects that are properly zoned where [the Planning Board] scoured the code to find a way to have it denied.”

Andy Binkowski, the new president of the North Fork Chamber of Commerce, said the changes could hurt many small-business owners.

Dockbuilder John Costello agreed, and said changing the site plan review process would become extremely costly.

Mr. Costello said he’s seen permit processes cost $300,000 for a $100,000 project on the South Fork.

“I want the common person to be able to live in Southold Town without the complications,” he said.

Supervisor Scott Russell told those in attendance that the board did a balancing act with the proposed legislation. He says businesses in the Mattituck Chamber of Commerce approached him in favor of the restrictions because of the eyesore created when developers stopped construction more than 18 months ago on a bank project on Route 25. Mr. Russell said if the law’s too broadly written, the town is willing to refine it.

Ms. Moore, however, said no one could have anticipated what happened in the case of the Mattituck project.

“Bad cases make bad law,” she said, adding that the town can’t retroactively apply the law to the property in Mattituck.

The second public hearing concerned several new property maintenance standards, such as keeping grass and hedges trimmed, graffiti off buildings and garbage and debris out of yards.

The proposal followed the town’s receipt of numerous complaints on the poor condition of foreclosed properties throughout Southold.

Under the new rule, if the banks owning such properties won’t clean them, the town will and attach the cost to the property tax bill.

Ms. Moore said she supported this change, adding it should also apply to commercial properties.

Barbara McAdam of Cutchogue said one property in her subdivision has been deteriorating for three years, and she would welcome any attempts to fix up the property.

Another resident, Julie Rapiano, said she lives next door to a bank-owned house with broken windows and a boarded-up garage. She said the bank has sent someone out only once in the past several years to mow the lawn.

The Town Board tabled both measures. Board members said they’d like to make the site plan law less broad and tweak the property maintenance section to make clear that it addresses ongoing maintenance issues, not punishing neighbors who don’t mow their lawns regularly.

Also on Tuesday, Town Board members agreed to have the public works department clean up a dilapidated property at 15775 Route 48 in Cutchogue. Two of the three buildings there are in severe disrepair. A chimney fell over and nearly hit a neighbor’s car, code enforcement officer Damon Rallis said at a Tuesday hearing on the case.

Mr. Rallis said he sent several notices of code violations to property owner John Jacobs of Hollis, N.Y., but Mr. Jacobs never responded. Town Board members voted to clean up the property and attach a fee to Mr. Jacobs’ tax bill.

Board members said the case differs from the proposed property maintenance standards in that it relies on an existing code provision dealing with unsafe structures, not unsightly buildings.

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