Charles Schwab, Michael Illari, Southampton, Hamptons
27east.com

Story - News

Judge Denies Town's Request To Remove Storm-Damaged Cars From Speonk Property

Publication: The Southampton Press
By Carol Moran   Dec 14, 2012 5:22 PM
Dec 19, 2012 11:34 AM

A State Supreme Court judge on Friday afternoon denied Southampton Town’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have forced the removal of thousands of storm-damaged vehicles now being stored near a sand mine in Speonk.

But Judge Thomas F. Whelan also ruled that the estimated 5,000 vehicles damaged by Hurricane Sandy cannot be dismantled or otherwise tampered with, and that the site off Speonk-Riverhead Road cannot accept any additional cars or trucks, according to Southampton Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato.

Ms. Scarlato said she could not give a reason why Judge Whelan denied the request to have the vehicles removed, but said on Monday that she thought he probably took into consideration the emergency circumstances created by Hurricane Sandy.

She also said that Copart, a national car auction company, had been storing 4,500 vehicles on the property, which is actually four separate parcels all listed with the same address: 144 Old Country Road. Town records indicate that the land is owned by Frank Grausso Jr., who has not returned calls seeking comment.

Ms. Scarlato said that the number of vehicles stored on the Speonk property has gone down slightly over the past week as Copart continues to auction off the vehicles. State law requires that the title of vehicles that were either destroyed or severely damaged by floodwaters be marked to indicate that such damage occurred, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Representatives of Copart, which is headquartered in Texas, also have not returned requests for comment over the past several weeks.

Ms. Scarlato explained that the town had sought interim relief in the form of the temporary restraining order, but will return to court on Friday, December 28, to make an argument for a preliminary injunction, which, if granted, would force the permanent removal of the vehicles.

The judge also ordered on Friday that local fire department officials be allowed on the site for a “pre-planned action visit,” so that they would be prepared to handle an emergency, such as a fire, Ms. Scarlato said. Ryan King, the chief of the Eastport Fire Department, said that visit hasn’t happened yet, but that he and others from his department plan to visit the property later this week to check for fire hazards and to ensure that they have access to the vehicles in the case of a fire.

In addition, Judge Whelan ordered that Copart’s environmental consultants provide an “observation and testing report” to the judge when they return to court on December 28.

While she could not say whether or not the vehicles stored on the land are leaking fluids, Ms. Scarlato said the report that’s due at the end of next week must document any such environmental threats. The company is also prohibited from clearing, grading or placing additional structures on the site, though a trailer serving as a temporary office may stay, she said.

“It’s obviously not the outcome that the town would have liked to have had,” she said. “We’re looking forward to the 28th, and we’re confident that the judge will rule based on the law and grant the preliminary injunction.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst called it “unfortunate” that the judge did not grant the restraining order, and said there are areas of the property that have already been cleared to make space for the vehicles. She said her office tried to contact the car auction company to discuss other paved locations—all in Brookhaven Town—that would be better suited for such utilization. She added that she has discussed the matter with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine and that he had identified possible sites in his town that could accommodate the vehicles.

Mr. Grausso and Copart were also issued appearance tickets for violating the town zoning code, which does not allow for the storage of vehicles on the parcels, which are zoned CR-200, or county residence. Those tickets, which town attorneys said could each be punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail, are answerable in Southampton Town Justice Court, also on December 28. Ms. Throne-Holst said the town would continue to issue the violations for each day that the company and property owner are in violation of the town code.

“It’s hard to understand why the judge would not grant a restraining order sought by the town to protect its own natural resources,” Dick Amper, the executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens, said on Monday. “This is an urgent matter—it is an important matter and the court should have acted at once.”

Copart was also storing vehicles at the Ringhoff Farm off County Route 51 in Eastport, just west of Mr. Grausso’s property. Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico said that property is not zoned for such a use, and town attorneys also sought a temporary restraining order in State Supreme Court. On December 11, Suffolk County, which owns developmental rights to the property, also filed suit.

1  |  2  >>  

You have read 1 of 7 free articles this month.

Yes! I'll try a one-month
Premium Membership
for just 99¢!
CLICK HERE

Already a subscriber? LOG IN HERE

Editor, the article would benefit from a bit more detail on the nature of the Town's motion for the judge. Was it seeking a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order), or a Preliminary Injunction? The standards for these two different motions are quite different, and it would appear that the judge DID make certain rulings which would minimize, or prevent, "irreparable injury" from the cars that are already there, and from additional cars which might have been brought to the site.

Are any of the ...more
By PBR (4365), Southampton on Dec 14, 12 6:19 PM
This does not bode well for the environment in Southampton or other east end places which are stricken by so many vehicles. These cars did not come from here - but are allowed to threaten our health/safety/drinking water/quality of life? What a shame.

And I'm not surprised in the least to hear the verdict knowing that it's Judge Whelan. He has a terrible record when it comes to agreeing with municipalities no matter what the argument.

So far the cars @ EPCAL haven't been removed ...more
By Nature (2588), Hampton Bays on Dec 15, 12 9:34 AM
Nature, I told you in an earlier post the judge has no right to make the owner remove the cars. There needs to be a trial or a settlement thats how it works in this country. So why the judge in this case? The ruling is terrible but what can you do?
By chief1 (1316), southampton on Dec 15, 12 6:18 PM
It's ok to admit you were wrong. The judge didn't rule that he didn't have the power to make them remove the vehicles - he simply ruled that he would NOT make them remove the vehicles. Not surprised considering his track record.

And as for what HB90 has to say - PBR is right. The vehicle storage is a violation of zoning regulations and is a potential danger to the health and well-being of the community
By Nature (2588), Hampton Bays on Dec 15, 12 10:57 PM
Are these cars on private property? If so, the Towns really have no business trying to get them moved absent some grave enviornmental hazard, i/m/o.
By HB90 (52), southampton on Dec 15, 12 8:18 PM
Zoning laws apply, and storage of cars etc. either is or is not a permitted use.

The correctness of the judge's ruling can only be assessed within the procedural context of the Town's motion: a TRO probably. If the hearing on the 28th is for a preliminary injunction, the court will be following different standards, and a clear zoning violation COULD result in an order to remove the cars.
By PBR (4365), Southampton on Dec 15, 12 9:02 PM
SHTown has it's own plot for storing cars - it has been there for many years as have hundreds of cars. The County has stored cars in WHB for years too, thousands of them. With all the long term leaky cars stored by SHTown for years, why is storing Sandy damaged cars temporarily a problem now?
By G (200), Southampton on Dec 17, 12 7:43 AM
G,
Don't let any facts get in your way. The SCPD has sored vehicles at the Westhampton Police Facilities for years. Never more than a few hundred. Not "thousands" as you claim. And it is the SCPD, NOT SHTown that has been doing it. Very few of them damaged by storms or floods, most likely, impounds for vehicle and trafffic violations.
By But I'm a blank! (809), Hampton Bays on Dec 17, 12 10:04 AM
Did this hearing take place today?
By PBR (4365), Southampton on Dec 28, 12 7:27 PM
New article posted. Link not yet above. Hearing postponed until Friday 1/4.

By PBR (4365), Southampton on Jan 2, 13 1:24 PM
thanks
By Nature (2588), Hampton Bays on Jan 2, 13 1:39 PM
Link to new article is now above. The Town's motion is for a Preliminary Injunction. Further comments under other article.
By PBR (4365), Southampton on Jan 2, 13 6:39 PM
©2014, 27east.com / The Press News Group - Ph: 631-283-4100 - mailbag@27east.com