By Stephen J. Kotz
Hopes for a truce between the owners of the new Harbor Market and Kitchen in Sag Harbor and angry neighbors, who say the appearance as well as noise and fumes from rooftop fans and vents that were installed last winter are despoiling their neighborhood, grew dimmer this week as the market’s owners filed a pair of suits against their most persistent critics.
Abbey Warsh, owns the market along with Paul and Susanna Del Favero, said the suits, one filed in federal court, the other in state Supreme Court, were “a last resort for me” after what she said was a persistent smear campaign against the business.
“I am extremely sensitive about being painted as litigious,” said Ms. Warsh, who added she had ignored advice from friends and legal advisors to sue months ago. “But I’ve been hammered for six months now.”
The federal suit charges that Andrew Skonka, who lives across Henry Street from the former Espresso’s Italian Market and designs web sites—including the Espresso site, which Ms. Warsh said she owns—hacked into it and directed web traffic to a forum set by the Next Door Neighbors’ Association, which has fought the market’s plans tooth in nail before the village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, the Zoning Board of Appeals and in a series of full-page ads in The Express.
Ms. Warsh said this week he only stopped after learning last week that the suit had been filed.
A second suit charges 10 of the market’s neighbors with defamation for allegedly engaging “in a malicious and coordinated campaign to brand the plaintiffs as wealthy developers that ‘lie’ and ‘building illegally without permits’ in violation of the local Sag Harbor laws and ordinances.”
Both suits, filed by New York attorney John Pelosi, seek unspecified damages.
Mr. Skonka said this week he had yet to be served, and insisted that it was he, not Ms. Warsh, who owned the Espresso website.
“The normal procedure is to transfer the domain to the new owner,” he said, “but I was told the new owner had no interest in using this domain because they were going to use a completely new name.”
He said he was not directing anyone away from the site and described it as “just hanging there” in cyberspace.
The dispute started last winter after neighbors said they were alarmed by the appearance of a growing jumble of mechanical equipment on the roof of the market, at the corner of Division and Henry streets. The market owners, who had already received building permits to renovate the building and approval from the ARB, charge that neighbors knowingly circulated a letter from village building inspector Tom Preiato stating that the market did not have all the necessary building permits in place even though he wrote a subsequent letter stating that he had made a mistake and all permits were, in fact, in place.
Nonetheless, the market’s owners, agreed to return to the ARB to discuss plans to screen the equipment. But when they appeared before the ARB again, neighbors—and members of the board itself—said they had failed to fully disclose just how much equipment they had planned to put on the roof.
In the ensuing months, the market has also been before the ZBA, which has weighed several variances and a request from Mr. Preiato for a ruling over whether or not a renovation of the basement for food preparation constituted the expansion of a non-conforming commercial use in a residential neighborhood.
The flames were fanned when the market opened at the end of April without a certificate of occupancy, but it appeared things were cooling down between the parties grew last month, when the market’s owners unveiled plans to muffle the equipment’s noise and screen it from sight.
On Tuesday, as it slogged through a seven-hour-long meeting, the ZBA concluded, over the objection of its chairman, Anthony Hagen, that it would not require an environmental impact statement for the project, though it stopped short of approving the application.
On Wednesday, Mr. Skonka said neighbors were considering a lawsuit of their own, if the village approves the market’s plans without some effort to reduce the appearance and impact of the rooftop equipment, which he said disturbs the peace 24 hours a day.
“I’m surprised she doesn’t understand our concerns because she would do the same thing,’ he said of Ms. Warsh. “We are just trying to protect our neighborhood.”
For her part, Ms. Warsh said the problems could have been solved if neighbors had simply tried to discuss things with her last winter. “I’m exhausted by it,” she said of the battle. “I just want to make food.”