Government

Town says number of lawsuits it’s facing over ZBA decisions is on the rise

A spike in lawsuits filed against the Zoning Board of Appeals is costing taxpayers. 

The Town of Southold allocated $40,000 for court expenses in June, in addition to the original $25,000 budgeted — and it’s expected even more money may be needed. Supervisor Scott Russell said as of mid-August, only about $14,000 of that $65,000 total remains. He anticipates the budget line may need another $30,000 or $40,000 before the year is up. The additional money is drawn from contingencies, a portion of the budget set aside to cover unforeseen costs, according to Mr. Russell.

“You see the current trend to want to build bigger and better. People I think want to build things the code doesn’t account for. And quite honestly, there’s people that just don’t take no for an answer. So their first instinct is to take us to court and we’re seeing a growth in that,” he said. 

Twelve lawsuits have been filed against the ZBA so far this year, in addition to six cases still pending from previous years, according to Mr. Russell. He said he hasn’t seen so many suits filed against the ZBA, at least while he’s been supervisor. He said he does not remember more than five actions being filed against the ZBA in a single year. 

One suit filed by a homeowner in April seeks to reverse a denial of a front yard variance to construct a garage addition on their property. Another, filed in May, is appealing the denial of an application to reverse a stop work order for construction.

Courts usually defer to local rule, Mr. Russell said. While he can’t say he expects the town to win all 18 cases, he expects they’ll win “a substantial portion of those.”

“There are some cases where you can just look and say, ‘Okay, what can we do here to settle this?’ But we generally don’t settle,” the supervisors said. “This is the new cost of doing business in Southold.”

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