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Large house construction moratorium in place: No special permits to be accepted 

It was a unanimous 5-0 vote by the Town Board Tuesday night to impose a 6-month moratorium on residential structures exceeding 5,999 square feet of living space. The legislation means no applications for special permits to construct larger houses will be accepted during those months.

On May 3, the Suffolk County Planning Commission approved a six-month moratorium, telling town officials they could return after six months to report progress. The fact that an updated Comprehensive Plan is underway carried weight with the county, which generally shies away from imposing moratoriums.

If it was an easy vote for the Town Board after many residents called for them to do something about the increased requests for special permits, it did not sit well with a representative of clients with applications already in the pipeline.

John Bennett of Bennett & Read LLP said he was told the Board would hold a hearing on one of his applications, and then heard from Town Attorney Stephen Kiely that the hearing was off the agenda because the moratorium was to be voted on at the meeting.

The Board can’t “unschedule” an application because it assumes a moratorium is going to be enacted, Mr. Bennett said.

The property in question is within the Pandion development created by Rich Hogan, who bought 25 acres of land on the former St. Gabriel’s property overlooking Coecles Harbor. Mr. Hogan, speaking at an April 25 Town Board meeting had called moratoriums “lazy legislation.”

Mr. Bennett blamed delays imposed by the Town Board in keeping the applications from going forward long before a moratorium was even considered. “There’s a lot of bad faith going on here,” he said. “It’s patently not fair,” he added, accusing the Board of changing the rules in the middle of the game.

The house at 1 Pandion Road owned by Josh Greenwald should have been approved for a special permit, Mr. Bennett said.

He initially met with resistance from Town Attorney Stephen Kiely, who told him during the public hearing on the moratorium that he was not offering relevant comments to the discussion of whether a moratorium should be imposed.

When Mr. Bennett went on speaking beyond three minutes, Mr. Kiely told him he could speak again after others had their say. But Supervisor Gerry Siller intervened and said Mr. Bennett should be allowed to finish his comments.

There was more sparring between Mr. Kiely and Mr. Bennett with the town attorney insisting the application on the Pandion house wasn’t complete because questions that were asked by the Town Board involving landscaping, lighting, curb cuts and other issues hadn’t been answered.

Mr. Bennett insisted many questions had been answered but in any case, said they didn’t make the application incomplete. He accused the Town Board of being against property rights, saying that wasn’t always the case on Shelter Island.

“The Board is big on property rights,” Mr. Siller said, but “that doesn’t mean you can do anything you want.”

The Town Board noted Mr. Bennett can apply for an exemption to the moratorium on behalf of his client.

A twist

A twist occurred with the Town Board unanimously agreeing to allow one project to go forward to finish a large house at 149 North Ram Island Road despite the moratorium. Attorney Christopher Kelley of Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo had spoken against the moratorium in April. He noted work on the property was not done by his client, but by the previous owner who failed to apply for a special permit. The current owners were unaware when they closed on the house the work hadn’t been permitted. The property in the name of the Isar River Trust lists the owner as Karen Hoeg.

A spokeswoman for the family said Tuesday night the family was out of town attending graduations and unable to be at the session, but understood and accepted the high penalty and costs involved in the effort to finish the work and get a legal certificate of occupancy.

That doesn’t come cheap. At Tuesday’s afternoon work session, Senior Building Inspector Reed Karen said penalties are allowed to be five times what it would cost for a special permit application.

Accordingly, the penalty is $26,954. Add to that the cost of a new special permit application linked to the total square foot of living space that will exist when the project is finished.

Accordingly, the current owners will have to pay a total of $32,495 plus, of course, whatever construction costs are.