‘Spite fence’ divides properties in Cutchogue

11/25/2016 5:58 AM |

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Months after members of the Old Town Arts & Crafts Guild publicly denounced an expansion project proposed by their neighbors, a fence has been erected that cuts off access to the guild’s parking area from an adjacent municipal lot. 

The wooden “spite fence,” as Southold town attorney William Duffy characterized it, appears to have been installed last month by the Terp family, which has proposed an expansion of its existing shopping area on Main Road in Cutchogue.

Guild treasurer Marion Wipf said she noticed the fence had been erected overnight between the guild’s private parking lot and the municipal lot next door. The wooden fence ends just past either side of the pathway.

“We were there before he built what he has there now,” Ms. Wipf said of neighbor Al Terp. “And there’s never been a problem at all.”

Technically, the municipal lot is on the Terp family’s property and is leased to the town. The 2003 lease agreement describes a pre-existing easement that prevents any construction from blocking the path between that lot and the parking area on the guild property.

“They just went right up ahead and did it anyway,” said guild president Bob Kuhne. “It’s strictly retaliation on their part, as far as I’m concerned.”

Neither members of the Terp family nor their attorney responded to requests for comment this week.

The feud between the neighbors heated up in August after guild members spoke out at a meeting against the Terps’ plan to replace their existing 2,100-square-foot Main Road building with a 5,600-square-foot structure divided into five storefronts.

Mr. Kuhne said guild members opposed the project because of sewage impacts — as well as concerns about having adequate parking.

The guild has another entrance from Main Road, but members there say it’s too narrow and can only allow one car to exit or enter at a time. Mr. Kuhne said his bigger concern is safety.

“If a fire truck or an ambulance had to get in there, there’d be no way for them to turn around,” he said. Since the easement described in the 2003 lease between the town and the Terp family, there’s no legal action the arts guild can take to enforce it, he said.

The Terp family’s attorney has claimed they had the right to set up the fence, according to Mr. Duffy, because no written copy of the easement can be found. Since the town hasn’t been able to produce a written easement, the Terps claim it’s not enforceable, Mr. Duffy said.

However, the town recently sent a notice to the Terps explaining a section of town code they may have violated. Since their proposal has not yet been approved by the Planning Board and is still in review, the family is barred from making any changes to its property, Mr. Duffy said.

Mr. Duffy said the town is prepared to take the Terps to court if necessary to enforce the code, but said the town was trying to “work it out amicably” before the situation comes to that.

“We always try first to give them a friendly warning,” he said.

As of Monday morning, the fence was still standing.

Mr. Kuhne said he hopes something will be done, though he’s concerned the business owners will “get what they want.”

“Hopefully they’ll just take it down,” he said.

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