Neighbors protest Greenport rental house

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Fifth Avenue residents have united in the fight against a proposed rental house on their street.
CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | Fifth Avenue residents have united in the fight against a proposed rental house on their street.

A Shelter Island contractor’s plan to build a second rental house on property he owns on Fifth Avenue in Greenport has drawn fierce opposition from neighbors.

James Olinkiewicz has filed a site plan with the Village of Greenport to subdivide his property and build a two-story rental house with three bedrooms on each floor within a few hundred feet of an identical multi-family rental house he already owns on the property. The new lot would be about 6,500 square feet, short of the village’s minimum lot-size requirement of 7,500 square feet. Since the proposed lot size is smaller than what village code permits, he is required to receive a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals before the Planning Board can make a final decision on the application.

But neighbors who live along Fifth Avenue and have become frustrated by the increasing number of rental properties along the block have banded together in opposition to the proposal. The neighbors appeared at recent Planning Board and ZBA meetings to speak out against the plan.

“This street is saturated with people, more people than were intended to live on it,” Fifth Avenue resident Jack Weiskott said at the September ZBA meeting. “It’s like living next to a parking lot.”

In a recent interview, lifelong Fifth Avenue resident Michael Reed said he believes the rental properties have impacted the quality of life on the once quiet street.

“We take a lot of pride in our neighborhood,” he said. “Everyone [else] here keeps the lawns and their house in place.”

He accused Mr. Olinkiewicz of putting his own business interests over what’s best for the neighborhood.

But attorney Kimberlea Rea of Westervelt & Rea, who represents Mr. Olinkiewicz, said the neighbors’ complaints have no basis and that many of the lots in the village are much smaller than what is permitted under today’s code. In fact, she said the property in question was once two smaller lots that were merged in 1877.

“This is a function of the neighbors being upset about another two-family home in their neighborhood,” she said. “Mr. Olinkiewicz has been accused of being a slumlord and lining his pockets at Greenport’s expense. That is not fair.”

Ms. Rea said Mr. Olinkiewicz is seeking the variance to address the need for more affordable housing in the village. She said the neighbors’ opposition to the plan is racially based, since most of the renters along Fifth Avenue are Hispanic, allegations the neighbors denied.

Planning Board members appeared generally in favor of the variance at an August meeting, but they requested several changes to the application before it can move forward. Those changes include creating a common driveway for each of the two houses and replacing the trees that would be killed once the new foundation was poured.

“Every time you lose a little bit of open space in the village, it’s something that is gone and it’s gone forever,” planning board chair Linn Atkinson-Loveless said during the meeting. “On the other hand, there’s the need for housing. I think that with this particular property, I would be inclined to be favorable toward a subdivision.”

As the ZBA gears up for another public hearing on the subdivision this month, Fifth Avenue neighbors remain optimistic that the builder’s request will be denied.

Ian Wiles, a Fifth Street resident who rents the downstairs of his two-family home, said he believes the board’s decision is simple.

“It is a government entity that has to operate by a specific set of rules,” he said. “It comes down to policy and because of that I think we can rely on the ZBA to make the right choice.”

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