Sieni sues to overturn ZBA decision, Owner of inn, restaurant seeks use of former residential parcel for business

PETER BOODY PHOTO | John Sieni speaking at Friday’s hearing on a proposed town zoning amendment.

La Maison Blanche owner John Sieni says in court papers that the town “unlawfully” used improper procedures when it asked the Zoning Board of Appeals last winter to decide whether or not the inn and restaurant could use a driveway that he installed on land that once was a separate residential lot — a lot that was acquired by the previous owner when the business was known as the Olde Country Inn.
The ZBA ruled early this year that the inn’s use of the lot constituted an illegal expansion of pre-existing, non-conforming use in a residential zone. The town code requires any expansion of a non-conforming use to be reviewed and approved by the  Zoning Board of Appeals.
The town’s permit administrator, Mary Wilson, improperly made the application to the ZBA for a ruling on the matter, according to Mr. Sieni’s petition to the State Supreme Court asking it to overrule the ZBA. It notes the town code requires the building inspector to file the application.
In his petition, filed by his attorney, Tiffany Scarlatto of Sag Harbor, Mr. Sieni also charges that the town never informed him that the ZBA would be conducting a hearing or any meetings at which his property would be a topic.
Mr. Sieni’s suit, called an Article 78 proceeding because it is authorized in Article 78 of the state’s Civil Procedures Law, asks the court to overturn the ZBA’s decision barring his business from making commercial use of the parcel, formerly a separate residential lot on West Neck Road behind the inn, which is on Stearns Point Road.
According to a neighbor who is opposing Mr. Sieni’s suit in court, Lisa Shaw, the case has been argued and the judge’s ruling is awaited.
Town Attorney Laury Dowd said on Tuesday, however, that there had not been arguments in the case and that it could be November before there is a decision.
The purchase of the adjacent lot by previous owner, Jeanne Fenkl, resulted in the merger of the residential parcel with the parcel on which the inn is located. The area is zoned for residential use and the inn is a legal, pre-existing, non-conforming commercial use that predates the residential zoning.
According to several people knowledgeable about the case, the property was acquired as a buffer to provide the necessary square footage for an expansion of the inn’s dining area under Suffolk County Department of Health regulations for septic systems.
Soon after Mr. Sieni filed the suit in May, neighbors on West Neck Road hired Southampton attorney David Gilmartin to seek an order to show cause why they should not be allowed to participate in the suit as interveners with standing in the case.
The order was granted, giving standing in the suit to Madeleine and Michael McClellan, Lori Beard Raymond, and Lisa Shaw and her husband Tom Hashagen, neighbors of the inn who first complained to the Town Board in December 2010 about the installation of a driveway for the inn on what had always been a vacant residential parcel next to their home on West Neck Road.