By Kathryn G. Menu
Neighbors of a house left abandoned on Howard Street for at least half a dozen years with a derelict, unregistered car in the driveway (home to a family of raccoons, they say) brought a group of Sag Harbor residents to the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday. They were there to plead with the village to help them find a way to contact the owner and bring the property out of what they say is becoming a blight in the neighborhood.
On Tuesday, February 12, residents with homes on Howard Street approached the board for the second time in two months.
Last month, residents Steven Barr and Mia Grosjean asked the village board to explore what options it had to aid residents in the case. The house in question, 39 Howard Street, has been without electricity, water and gas for half a decade, and Grosjean said she has not seen anyone at the residence since she moved to the street in 1997 — a sentiment echoed by neighbors.
In addition to the house falling into disrepair, Barr reported there are a number of animals, including raccoons, camped out in an unregistered car, with no plates, in the overgrown driveway.
According to village records, John Groth, in care of Gordon Dowling of New York City, owns the house.
On Tuesday, Mayor Brian Gilbride said both he and Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley visited the house and notified the building department of its condition. According to a memo drafted by building inspector Tim Platt to the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees on February 7, the case has been turned over to fire marshal and code enforcement officer Keith Payne.
“I have visited the site and clearly there are maintenance issues in addition to the unregistered vehicle,” said Platt in his memo to the board. “However, until FM Payne can open a dialogue with Mr. Groth it is difficult to determine the proper course of action.”
On January 3, Payne sent a letter to the address listed with the village, warning that the Sag Harbor Village code does prohibit the “use of outdoor premises for the storage of any unregistered vehicles, including automobiles, trucks, trailers and boats …”. The same section of the code, warns Payne, calls for a “minimum level of exterior property maintenance.”
“The unregistered vehicles must be removed or stored inside,” writes Payne. “Exterior property must be free of litter and junk. Your prompt attention to this matter is appreciated.”
According to Platt’s memo, on January 18 a message was received from Mr. Groth, but was difficult to understand, including the return phone number. Payne sent a second letter asking that Mr. Groth contact the village again with a proper phone number, and according to Platt’s memo, a ticket will be mailed to the owner this week at which point progress on the property will fall entirely into the hands of the court and the owner. The ticket would be for the unregistered vehicle and property maintenance, according to the Platt memo.
Platt adds it is unlawful for the village to remove the car from private property, although it does have the authority to do so from public parking lots and village streets.
“We have no vendetta here,” stressed Barr on Tuesday night. “If the owner wants to maintain the property and resolve the issues, that is okay.”
In other village news, a dispute arose between board members and some members of the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department on Tuesday night over the appointment, or lack thereof, of Kevin J. Duchemin, Jr. — son of village trustee Kevin Duchemin — as an active probationary member of the Gazelle Hose Company #1, a request made by Bob Bori, secretary of the fire department.
Village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. was asked to look into the department bylaws, he said, which read that an undergraduate couldn’t be an active member of the fire department. Thiele noted the language in the bylaws also include a reference to being in a local school, but regardless an “undergraduate” would apply to someone like Duchemin, Jr., who is still in college.
Thiele said the bylaws would need to be changed by the department before the appointment could move forward.
Trustee Duchemin said college students have been allowed into the department for 30 years.
“But when it’s my son, it’s different,” he asked.
“So technically if I was to retire from the police department and went back to school to become a school teacher, I would have to leave the fire department,” added Duchemin.
“The bottom line is that is how the bylaws read and it is something the bylaws committee should address,” said Gilbride. “It has nothing to do with Kevin.”
Bori was visibly upset by the turn of events, and noted that when Gilbride was on the board of wardens he allowed Bori to join the fire department while he was an undergraduate at Suffolk Community College.
“I don’t see the problem,” said Bori.
“Amend the bylaws,” said Thiele.
In other village news, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees set its budget schedule for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. It will host its first budget hearing on February 20 at 4 p.m. Budget meetings will follow on March 6, March 20 and April 3.
The village board will meet on Friday, February 15 at 4 p.m. regarding a bid for village dock repairs related to Superstorm Sandy and other business brought before the board.