Saga of the Dunes Continues

The controversial residential drug treatment facility called the Dunes, at 26 Bull Run in East Hampton’s Northwest Woods, took center stage at the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Tuesday night. The hearing, however, turned out to be just another act in a very long play, the end of which is still not in sight.

The facility primarily serves wealthy clients with drug addiction problems, while also offering grants to other residents with similar issues. It opened for business in November 2010, and within a year was met by opposition from neighbors. Some of them banded together to retain Jeffrey L. Bragman, an East Hampton attorney who specializes in zoning issues. In turn, Joe McKinsey, the owner of Safe Harbor Retreat, which runs the Dunes, hired the law firm of Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, L.L.P. For some five years now, the two sides have sparred in front of both the town’s planning and zoning boards.

The problem facing Mr. McKinsey is that the property, which covers almost four acres, is zoned for single family residential use only.

According to Mr. McKinsey and his legal team, William Wilkinson, who was then East Hampton Town supervisor, felt that they could, indeed, be considered to be operating as a single family house, and encouraged them to open under that understanding. Tom Prieato, then the town’s chief building inspector, Mr. McKinsey says, initially supported that interpretation, but rejected it after the facility opened, determining that Safe Harbor needed to obtain a special permit to operate the Dunes as a semi-public facility. Mr. McKinsey asked the Z.B.A. to reverse that determination. When the Z.B.A. turned him down, Mr. McKinsey took the matter to Eastern District Federal Court, claiming, in part, prejudice by the town against a protected class (that is, those suffering from drug addiction, which could be considered a disability). In 2015, the Eastern  District Federal Court in Central Islip rejected that suit, saying he needed to first exhaust possible remedies under town code before making his case to them.

That brought Mr. McKinsey back to the planning board, to ask to be issued a special permit to operate as a semi-public facility. Before the planning board can do that, however, Mr. Mc­Kinsey needs to obtain setback variances. Under town code, minimum setbacks are doubled for semipublic facilities operating in residential districts. As a residence, the setbacks on the site would be in compliance; as a semipublic facility, they would not.

Joseph Campolo told the board that Suffolk County has the highest rate of drug addiction in New York State. He said that opponents of the facility had engaged in “wild speculation and unsubstantiated accusations.”

“It is a home,” Mr. Campolo said. “Addiction is the only disease you can talk yourself out of.”

Mr. McKinsey spoke to the board on Tuesday, as well. He told them that he, himself, is a recovering addict. “I’m sober 33 years. I have a lot to give back.” The average length of stay for patients is two to four months, he said. Thus far, 18 East End residents with drug addiction problems have stayed at the Dunes, he said.

The devil, however, was in the details.

Eric Schantz, a senior planner for the town who is handling the proposal, said that the property was once granted a seemingly insignificant setback variance for a garage, which was built 32.5 feet from the property line, less than the 35 feet required under the town code for residential properties (a variance of roughly 7 percent). As a semipublic facility, however, that variance would signify almost 54 percent. Mr. Schantz pointed out that the property appears to be over-cleared. “There is a lot of revegetation that needs to be done to get into compliance,” he said. Cate Rogers, a board member, asked if Safe Harbor had sought clearance variances. Told it had not, she said, “They need it.”

Mr. Schantz also said that there were “numerous discrepancies” between the survey attached to the certificate of occupancy for the site and the survey presented to the Z.B.A.

Occupancy numbers, of clients as well as staff, were concerns for the board, too.

A traffic study prepared for the applicant and presented by Pat Dunne of Westhampton drew the ire of Mr. Bragman, when it came his turn to speak. He said that he and the board had received a 300-page document from the applicant just the day before the hearing; he asked that the hearing be continued to allow him time to review it and prepare his response. “This is a new ballgame. They owe us candor. They are half an acre over-cleared. This is not a hearing conducted by ambush,” he said.

Mr. Campolo objected to adjourning, saying that out of the 300 pages, “90 percent is not new.”

Board member David Lys did not at first see the wisdom in adjourning the meeting: “I really wish we would keep rolling through.” He said he had also received the 300 pages the day before, and had studied it.

The other board members did not agree, and Mr. Lys eventually joined them in voting to keep the record open and adjourn the hearing to a later date. Official notice will be given of the hearing’s reopening, and Ms. Rogers, acting as chairwoman in John Whelan’s absence, gave the two sides 10 days, before whatever date is eventually chosen, to respond in writing to materials presented.

Before the hearing was closed, Roy Dalene, a member of the board, asked that when the hearing reopens the applicant address “the true occupancy of the building. I haven’t heard that.”