Stairgate heads back to court as cement structure remains intact

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | A Brooklyn couple could end up back in court since the beachfront staircase they built along the Sound in Cutchogue has not been removed.

The legal battle continues between Southold Town and the Brooklyn couple issued violations for building a masonry staircase at their Cutchogue vacation home.

On Tuesday, board members voted to hire Riverhead attorney Thomas Sledjeski, the town’s special counsel, to represent them in a new lawsuit related to the outstanding violations, to be filed in Suffolk County Supreme Court against property owners Hui Hui Yu and Cheng Kai Yu.

The action comes months after a federal judge dismissed a civil rights suit the Yus filed against the town in 2010, which claimed that Ms. Yu was a victim of excessive police force and that town discriminated against the couple, who described themselves in the suit as Taiwanese immigrants, because they’re Asian.

The excessive force claim stems from Ms. Yu’s allegation that while she was sitting in a public area in Town Hall, a police officer grabbed her arm and forced her outside. But in a May 1 decision, the judge found that claim legally insufficient and lacking proof.

That suit named 19 town officials as defendants, including Supervisor Scott Russell, both town justices, the town attorney, two town Trustees, the town police department and its chief, the zoning board, tax receiver and assessors. The racism charges were dropped last year.

With the civil rights case settled, the town is demanding that Yus bring the structure into compliance with town code. However, town officials are now saying the Yus have refused.

Officials say the couple built the granite and cement block staircase on the Sound bluff at their Dignans Road home in 2006 without any town approvals, such as a Trustees wetlands permit, required for any construction within 100 feet of water.

Given concerns that a non-timber structure could cause erosion to the bluff, there is doubt doubts that the town would ever approve such a design. Supervisor Scott Russell says it is unlikely the Yus would be able to make the existing structure comply with town code.

“The town’s position is that it needs to be taken down,” he said.

This is not the first time the couple has been cited for code violations. In the 1980s, according to a Suffolk Times report, the Yus erected a de facto fence by piling wooden pallets atop a stone revetment installed at the base of the bluff, town officials said. At that time, couple claimed they had a state Department of Environmental Conservation permit for the revetment that rendered the need for town approval moot.

The Yus could not be reached for comment.

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