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Important Questions Remain on Duryea's Settlement Deal

Wed, 06/12/2019 - 19:29

The town lawyer at the center of a controversy over a lawsuit brought by the new owner of Duryea’s in Montauk has departed for parts unknown, but this is hardly the end of the troubling matter. Many questions remain about who knew what when in an improper — and possibly illegal — settlement arrangement he signed.

In January, the Town of East Hampton and Marc Rowan, the billionaire co-founder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, quietly settled a lawsuit about the property. Mr. Rowan had up to then unsuccessfully sought town permits for alterations — some say expansion — of a restaurant on the waterfront site, where one Yelp reviewer likened the ambience to St. Tropez and Ibiza. Prices are no longer listed on Duryea’s online menu, but the last time we looked, it was $54 for a lobster Cobb salad. So much for the old Montauk, right?

In the settlement draft, it appeared he got nearly everything he wanted. The agreement would also have bound the town to legalize all manner of uses and structures on the property and set hard deadlines for the Building Department and planning boards to play along in allowing waitstaff service at the restaurant, where before only a kind of hybrid takeout system had been permitted.

But there was a problem — a big one. When Michael Sendlenski, then the top town lawyer who has since resigned, ostensibly agreed to the settlement, he had not been authorized to do so by a majority vote of the board. Mr. Sendlenski quit not long after a Feb. 21 board meeting in which he angrily defended himself against an accusation that he had acted improperly. In mid-March, the town hired an outside law firm in an attempt to reverse the settlement with Mr. Rowan, and a judge did that about a month later.

Just how much East Hampton Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc knew in advance about the settlement dealings is not clear. In a sworn affidavit to the court, Mr. Rowan said he had had personal discussions last year with Mr. Van Scoyoc about the property, including one that Councilman David Lys also attended. 

In his court statement, Mr. Rowan said Mr. Van Scoyoc was eager to see the issues with Duryea’s resolved in Mr. Rowan’s favor and suggested that he sue the town to provide political cover for the town board. Not surprisingly, Mr. Van Scoyoc has disputed this account; however, there is no reason to think Mr. Rowan was lying when he signed the affidavit last month in front of a notary public.

This puts the supervisor square in the middle of an improper, if not illegal, set of circumstances that led to the now-on-hold settlement because it is highly unlikely that Mr. Sendlenski acted alone when he signed off on the deal in January. Settlements like this should always have the affirmative authorization of the entire board. 

At this point, too little is known about the meeting between the town and Mr. Rowan, as well as how the settlement document came to be. One thing is clear: Both Mr. Van Scoyoc and Mr. Sendlenski look very bad for taking part in this dubious affair, and, at this late date, not coming clean on what actually happened.

 

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