Decision in La Maison Blanche case remains in limbo

JULIE LANE PHOTO | La Maison Blanche owner John Sieni awaits a court decision on whether he can continue to use a back driveway from West Neck Road to access the inn and restaurant.

A long-pending dispute between the owners of the La Maison Blanche inn and restaurant and the Shelter Island Zoning Board of Appeals remains in limbo after more than a year.

State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Arlen Spinner has set Oct. 24 as the date by which the town must submit certified transcripts of all relevant meetings of the Town Board and ZBA pertaining to its judgment of what constitutes an expansion of a nonconforming use.

In the interim, the town is prohibited from enforcing its interpretation that would stop La Maison Blanche owner John Sieni from using a driveway on a formerly separate residential lot behind the inn as an entry path to his commercial property. The lot is on West Neck Road behind the inn; the inn itself is on Stearns Point Road.

The vacant residential parcel in question was acquired by the previous owner of the inn property, Jeanne Fenkl, when the business was operated as the Olde Country Inn.

Mr. Sieni filed a lawsuit in May 2011 asking the Supreme Court to overturn the ZBA’s decision barring his business from making commercial use of the parcel.

In his filing, Mr. Sieni charged the town with using improper procedures by failing to inform him that La Maison Blanche would be the target of either a hearing or meetings to discuss what constitutes expansion of a nonconforming use under zoning.

He also said the town was remiss in allowing permit administrator Mary Wilson to make an application to the ZBA for a ruling when town code required the building inspector to file such an application.

“Papers submitted in this court are incomplete and unclear as to whether the interpretation made by [the] ZBA regarding expansion of nonconforming uses was considered as a generality, made for general purposes regarding the entirety of Shelter Island, or was it rather made with specificity, aimed directly with [Mr. Sieni’s] property in mind,” the justice said in a written statement on the status of the case.

Without certified transcripts of various meetings, the court “cannot determine if the decision has been arbitrary, capricious, illegal or an abuse of discretion,” the grounds necessary to overturn a ZBA ruling.

Justice Spinner also marked the Oct. 24 date on the court calendar for possible further discussion without indicating when a final decision might be rendered.

For the full story, see the Sept. 6 Reporter.

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