Homeowner Sues Sag Harbor Village over Moratorium

Gaynor web
The Gaynor residence at the corner of Madison and Henry streets in Sag Harbor.

By Stephen J. Kotz

The owner of a house whose plans to expand it have been put in limbo by Sag Harbor’s building moratorium has sued the village in state Supreme Court, seeking to have both his renovation plans approved and the court to overturn the moratorium.

Attorneys for Michael Gaynor, whose vacant house at the corner of Madison and Henry streets, remains set off by a construction fence, have also taken the unusual step of issuing subpoenas seeking information from both village officials as well as private citizens, including all the board members of the organization Save Sag Harbor.

That act had Jeffrey Bragman, the attorney representing Save Sag Harbor, and village attorney Fred W. Thiele Jr. both calling foul.

“There is nothing more delightful than to open the door and be issued a subpoena,” said Mr. Bragman on Wednesday. “Their purpose can only be to intimidate village officials as they consider additional zoning regulations, while those filed against members of the public serve only to chill public participation” in the democratic process.

“They are asking for all communications from 2013 between all the board members of Save Sag Harbor and all the emails and communications between them and any elected officials,” continued Mr. Bragman, who called the subpoenas “grossly overboard and extremely intrusive.”

Mr. Thiele agreed with Mr. Bragman’s assessment, adding, “in my opinion it’s nothing more than an abuse of the judicial system” and saying the village would move to quash the subpoenas issued to those serving in their official capacity.

The suit was filed by Sag Harbor attorney Brian DeSesa who did not return a call seeking comment.

The suit charges the village’s ARB, after encouraging Mr. Gaynor’s plans to renovate his house at 149 Madison Street last spring when his architect, Val Florio, first appeared before the board, began to drag its heels and eventually, despite three opportunities to issue the certificate of appropriateness that would allow him to obtain building permits, simply tabled the application.

In the midst of the review process, the village elected a new mayor, Sandra Schroeder, who supported a moratorium to give village officials time to review the code, and who, through new appointments effectively remade the ARB, which had come under criticism for being too lax in its review of development in the village.

In one instance, shortly before the election and with only three members present, acting ARB chairman Tom Horn Sr. said he did not want to vote on the application because the ARB had been coming under criticism for its actions.

After the election, when Tony Brandt was appointed the new chairman, he announced the ARB would take no action on applications before it until new members had an opportunity to bring themselves up to speed on them.

The suit asks the court to order the ARB to approve Mr. Gaynor’s plans to undertake his renovation and further asks that it overturn the village’s moratorium, which it contends is overreaching, and should not apply to his project.

Mr. Thiele countered that the village’s moratorium is perfectly legal. “It’s a garden variety moratorium that has been done several times in other villages and towns, including Sag Harbor,” he said.

Furthermore, Mr. Thiele said the moratorium had an exemption provision, which allows applicants who have been caught up in it, to petition the village board to allow their projects to proceed.

“They have failed to exhaust their administrative remedies,” he said. “Typically in these cases, courts don’t act on them if they are still within the administrative process.”

He added that with deadlines for submission of paperwork in the case not until early December, it is highly unlikely the court would act on the suit until the moratorium ends in mid-January.