Citing a “pattern of harassment and discrimination” by Sag Harbor Village officials to prevent East End Ventures from constructing 18 luxury condominiums and accessory dock slips on village waterfront, this week the principals of that corporation have filed a $30 million civil action against the village.
In addition to the village, Mayor Brian Gilbride, trustee Tiffany Scarlato and former Mayor Greg Ferraris, village attorneys Anthony Tohill and Fred W. Thiele are also named as defendants in the case, as is village environmental planning consultant Rich Warren. The planning and zoning boards are also named in the suit.
At its root, similar to a claim made last month, is the village’s re-write of its zoning code, which occurred while East End Ventures presented its proposal to the village’s planning board. East End Ventures claims it was led to believe it would be exempt from the newly enacted zoning code, which was approved late this spring, when in fact the project was not.
East End Ventures claims it tried to contact the village on a number of occasions to discover if they would be exempt from the new code, which drastically reduces the number of units allowed on the parcels, but never received a response. Their claim is the village’s new code was designed specifically to thwart their project and prevent East End Ventures from being able to sell the property to any other buyer other than the Village of Sag Harbor.
In the suit, East End Ventures paints a portrait of a village, several board members and consultants opposed to the plan from its inception, and cites developer Michael Maidan, which the suit specifically notes is a Russian Jewish immigrant, as one “whose outside manner and presentation were clearly at odds with that of community members.”
East End Ventures attorney, Sam Israel, also points to the hiring of architect Dean Telfer, who was originally brought in by the village to bring the various village boards to consensus on the architecture of the project, and his subsequent firing by village attorney Anthony Tohill as further delaying the proposal’s completion. At the same time, notes Israel, local not-for-profits began fundraising in what Israel calls “efforts expressly aimed at applying continued pressure” on the village “to defeat Michael Maidan’s project by any means necessary.”
Tohill and Warren’s involvement in the zoning code revision, as well as the planning board’s attorney and consultant in both the Ferry Road condo application and the approved Bulova Watchcase Factory application – two of three large scale condos on the village’s docket in the last five years including Maidan’s approved West Water Street– is noted in the suit. On Tuesday Trustee Tiffany Scarlato, also a defendant in the case, said any inference that the two positions posed a conflict for Tohill was unreasonable.
“There is no conflict to my knowledge,” she said. “That is what I did [in the Town of East Hampton]. It is extremely common for attorneys working in a municipality to serve both positions. I write codes for the town and I am the planning board attorney. I was also involved in the rezoning in East Hampton and its Comprehensive Plan. That is just the way it is.”
Village attorney Thiele, also a state assemblyman, is also noted as being involved in a CONPOSH forum Israel says was dedicated to advancing the village’s acquisition of the property. Thiele is also mentioned as using his position as a State Assemblyman to further Mayor Gilbride’s recent battle with the Metropolitan Transit Authority to secure a piece of land adjacent to the Ferry Road parcel.
In addition to the $30 million sought by the developers, the suit also aims to prevent the village from acquiring the MTA land, and declare the condo project exempt from the new zoning code.
On Tuesday, Scarlato denied the code was re-written with the Ferry Road parcel in mind.
“There was a comprehensive plan done for the entire Village Business District, not directed at any one property at all,” she said.
“I think their lawsuit in all is baseless and without merit,” added Thiele on Wednesday. “I have seen these before and they are in my way of thinking the desperate gasp of someone with a failed investment.”
Maureen Liccione, the attorney who will represent the village in the case, said on Wednesday she planned to advise the village to seek a dismissal of the suit, citing similar cases in Westhampton Beach.
“Our firm succeed in a motion to dismiss without a trial in a case with very similar accusations against the Village of Westhampton Beach,” she said.
Luciano said, in part, this is due to the naming of consultants and attorneys in the case, who she said cannot be liable in such a suit as they are not government officials.
“I think the courts want to avoid a killing effect in regards to people doing their jobs,” said Luciano. “It is one thing to disagree, but quite another to call that a Constitutional violation.”