An application for a four-lot commercial subdivision in East Hampton that has been stalled for the past six years over road access issues was the subject of heated controversy at an East Hampton Town Planning Board meeting on June 22.
Earlier in the day, planning board members received a memo from the board’s attorney, Kathryn Santiago, recommending that, due to a legal error, the board modify a 2005 resolution granting Carolyn Snyder and her husband Harold, who has since died, subdivision approval for seven acres behind the family’s Round Swamp Farm on Three Mile Harbor Road. The land extends east to Springs-Fireplace Road.
It was determined six years ago, after much debate, that the access to the subdivision would be via the north portion of West Drive, which is an industrial area, and would not run through the south portion of West Drive, which is a residential area, despite the fact that the family had legal access to the property from the southern portion of the road.
“This was a political compromise that was forced, very definitively and appropriately, in 2005,” said Jonathon Moore, who lives in the area and is an attorney for the Freetown Neighborhood Coalition, a group comprised, in part, of people who live in the vicinity and are opposed to the southern access.
Although the Snyders’ application was first submitted in 1999, access has still not been implemented, and the preliminary site plan approval from 2009 is contingent upon completion of the northern opening.
However, the northern portion of that road is privately owned, and the Snyders do not have legal rights to it.
Maureen Liccione, an attorney recently hired by the Snyders, maintains that this aspect of the approval is illegal, and brought it to the attention of John Jilnicki, the town attorney. As a result, Ms. Santiago informed the planning board in her memo: “It is contrary to law to predicate an approval of a land use application on events that are outside of the planning board’s or applicant’s control. Case law supports the principle that it is impermissible to condition an approval on improvements to be completed ‘off-site’ or ‘outside of the proposed site’ or ‘not part of the filed map.’ ”
Planning board members received the memo only a few hours before the meeting, and some of them were unclear how this item even made it on to the evening’s agenda. “It was a result of an in-house meeting with the town staff and planning board members,” Ms. Santiago told board members. “I drafted a memo to satisfy their request, and the chairman approves what becomes part of the agenda.” Reed Jones is the chairman of the planning board.
The memo’s directive was that the planning board make the changes necessary to legalize the approval as it relates to the northern portion of West Drive.
In Mr. Jilnicki’s absence, Ms. Santiago read a letter from him pointing out that the planning board knew that the Snyders had legal access to the property over the southern portion of West Drive. “As a result, their counsel objected to conditioning the approval upon other access over which they have no legal rights,” Mr. Jilnicki wrote in the letter. That said, the Snyders still want to move forward with the northern access, according to Mr. Jilnicki.
In order to facilitate this, Mr. Jilnicki wrote, “At a meeting with the majority of the property owners along West Drive ‘North’ and the Snyders, all agreed upon the creation of a road improvement district which would consist of the property owners along West Drive ‘North’ and the Snyders.”
Given that support, only a small part of Pennsylvania Avenue near Springs-Fireplace Road would need to be condemned to create the district, he said.
Board members were divided on their approach to addressing the suggested modification. “I think the board should vote on whether this is the forum to discuss this,” said Peter Van Scoyoc, board member. “We approved it before, and I don’t think revisiting this resolution is appropriate. It opens this up to people who want to challenge the resolution. It will take more time to get this done,” he said.
However, the application has been pending for six years, and there were members of the board who disagreed. “We owe these people an answer. It’s been thoroughly looked through,” Mr. Jones said. “I see people here from both sides, and they deserve a yes or no answer.”
Other members took issue with the manner in which the matter was presented to the board. “I’d like to know who on the planning board met with the town,” said Robert Schaeffer, the board’s vice chairman. According to Eileen Roaman Catalano, a board member, “This letter was not posted on the Internet, and the people who are concerned would not even know about this.”
Patrick Schutte, another board member, admitted that he attended the meeting Ms. Santiago referenced. “This is my area, we always meet with applicants,” he said.
While the board wanted the Snyders to succeed with their application, there was resistance to revisiting technicalities that the board had already ironed out, and to the fact that the town board seemed to have issued a directive to the planning board.
There was also concern over the protocol, “In four years on the board, we’ve never seen a memo like this,” Ms. Catalano said. “It’s not even a modification request,” added Mr. Van Scoyoc.
“This is between the town and the applicants. The town said they were doing this road. The thing that has to happen is that the town has to commit to this,” Ms. Catalano said.
“This wasn’t brought to the planning board by the town board. The overall factor here is that it was an illegal condition that was placed on the resolution,” Ms. Santiago said.
“We’re predicating the approval on completing the road. The only person who can complete the road is the town. That becomes the problem. The applicant is not in control of completing the process themselves. That is the legal portion,” said Ms. Santiago.
As the conversation escalated, Ms. Santiago asked the board, “Are you not looking for legal expertise?” to which Mr. Van Scoyoc replied, “Yes, as a matter of fact, we are.”
“If anyone wants to take the job of the attorney, please do so,” said Ms. Santiago.
Board members voted four to three to table the matter until they have more information and an understanding of why the issue was brought to them in this way.