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La Maison Blanche zoning lawsuit stalled by paperwork delays

JULIE LANE PHOTO | La Maison Blanche inn and restaurant.

A long-pending lawsuit filed by the owner of La Maison Blanche against the Shelter Island Zoning Board of Appeals remains in limbo after more than a year.

Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Arlen Spinner last month set October 24 as the date by which the town must submit “certified transcripts” of all relevant meetings of the Town Board and ZBA pertaining to the ZBA’s decision in 2011 that the use of a driveway next to the hotel constituted an expansion of a nonconforming use in a residential zone.

The town does not typically record ZBA hearings or have a stenographer on hand for them. Town Board meetings are recorded on video but transcripts are not normally produced of any board discussions.

Previously, the court had asked the town to submit paperwork it already had submitted, Town Attorney Laury Dowd has said, delaying the case for months.

Meanwhile, the town is prohibited from enforcing the ZBA’s interpretation that La Maison Blanche has no right to use a driveway installed on a second parcel, running from West Neck Road to the inn and restaurant on Stearns Point Road. The second parcel, a residentially zoned vacant lot next door to the inn, was purchased by former owner Jeanne Finkle. She wanted the additional space as a buffer for a septic system needed for a planned expansion of the former Olde Country Inn’s dining area.

Ms. Finkle sold both properties to Mr. Sieni.

Mr. Sieni filed an Article 78 suit in May 2011 charging the ZBA with using improper procedures by failing to inform him that La Maison Blanche would be the subject of either a hearing or any meetings to discuss what constitutes expansion of a nonconforming use. He also said the town was remiss in allowing permit administrator Mary Wilson to make an application to the ZBA for a ruling on the issue when the town code requires the building inspector to file such an application.

Several West Neck Road neighbors hired Southampton attorney David Gilmartin last year to represent them, establishing their standing in the case as opponents to La Maison Blanche’s commercial use of the driveway. The residents had voiced objections to the driveway use at Town Board meetings almost two years ago.