Harbor Committee Floats Time Delays As Penalties For Code Violators

The September 2 Harbor Committee meeting.

The Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee is floating administrative penalties that will cause time delays for applicants who flout the village code.

At the committee’s Thursday, September 3, virtual meeting, several members noted that financial penalties, which are capped by New York State, are just seen as the cost of doing business for some developers. As a greater deterrent, members suggest that applications be delayed until properties in violation are brought into compliance.

“We’re all aware that people can have these code violations, and they pay $100, $1,000, $10,000, and it’s all just part of doing business,” Chairwoman Mary Ann Eddy said.

Fred W. Thiele Jr., the committee attorney, said member John Parker had asked him to explain if the committee is obligated to process an application while there is an outstanding violation on the property.

“You’re not the justice court, you’re not the building inspector, you don’t do enforcement, so absent some code provision adopted by the Village Board … you have a responsibility to process applications,” Mr. Thiele said.

Sag Harbor Village has no such code provision. However, in the East Hampton Town code, he said, the building inspector may institute an administrative penalty whereby no regulatory board would have the duty to process an application until the violation is remedied. He noted that building inspectors are required to give applicants due process and the chance to respond before instituting a penalty.

“It’s an additional tool to get compliance,” he said. “I think it’s worked very well in the Town of East Hampton.”

The issue was relevant to one application that was before the committee earlier in the meeting, 11 Terry Drive, where that same day, a summons was issued to the homeowner for overclearing the property.

“There was clearing on this property that wasn’t permitted, and I would just like to ask the attorney whether we can get a commitment that there will be no further clearing on the property,” Mr. Parker said.

“I will tell him he’s not allowed to break the law,” said attorney Brian DeSesa, who joined the meeting to represent the homeowner. “… I will tell him he can‘t clear, and this is why he can’t clear. So to the best of my ability, yes.”

The committee did not have to take any action on 11 Terry Drive that evening because the plans for a house on the property had been scaled back slightly to conform with the permissible building envelope, and a revised application was being submitted. But the application became the example that committee members repeatedly pointed to in discussing deterring violators.

“In many cases, the fine that is authorized under state law, especially given the value of the properties we’re talking about, could be just the cost of doing business, to pay the fine and move on,” Mr. Thiele said.

“There are other jurisdictions that include a time, so if you do something illegal, not only do you get fined monetarily, but there is a time clause,” member Will Sharp noted. “It’s the observation of some municipalities that that is the one that really hurts the developer the most.”

For instance, in Massachusetts, if a house is demolished illegally, a project may not proceed on the land for a year or two, he said.

“Money doesn’t always matter for people around here, but time does,” member Caroline Fell said.

“That will get any builder’s attention, I can tell you that,” member Herb Sambol said.

“Let’s take this next month to sort of scour the landscape and find out … what other solutions municipalities have come up with to this thorny problem,” Ms. Eddy said.

Also at the September 3 meeting, Ms. Eddy reported that she’s been asked to turn over personal emails going back to 2016 concerning a high-profile application.

Ms. Eddy said she has had a village email account for just one year, and prior to that, she used her personal AOL account for village business. Going through three years of emails is “pretty painful,” she said, as she encouraged committee members to exclusively use their village email accounts for committee business. “You’re going to save yourself a lot of trouble down the road,” she said.

“Use your village email for village business,” Mr. Thiele urged. “Do not use your private email for village business because the law is crystal clear: Regardless of where you’re conducting village business … they’re all discoverable under the Freedom of Information Law.”