State Supreme Court Upholds Planning Board's Denial of Hill Street Subdivision - 27 East

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State Supreme Court Upholds Planning Board’s Denial of Hill Street Subdivision

Brendan J. O’Reilly on Nov 28, 2023

A State Supreme Court justice has upheld the Southampton Village Planning Board’s denial of a proposed Hill Street subdivision, finding that the Planning Board acted in accordance with the village’s comprehensive plan.

The Planning Board voted, 3-1, on June 5 to deny the application of James Zuhusky, a former member of the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals, to subdivide contiguous properties at 550 and 554 Hill Street into three residential lots, one of which would be accessed via Captains Neck Lane and an easement over another property Zuhusky owns. The plan had previously attained ZBA approval, and that approval held up to a court challenge brought by neighbors.

Zuhusky’s attorneys told the court that the proposal would reconfigure and transform “two long, irregularly shaped, rectangular lots currently containing two residential structures and a preexisting, nonconforming industrial warehouse and gravel parking lot devoid of vegetation” into “three better-shaped lots containing three landscaped, residential structures.”

The Planning Board elaborated on its reasoning for denying the subdivision application in a July 3 resolution. The resolution points out that the village’s master plan that was adopted in 2022 discourages the use of flag lots and access easements, and if a flag lot is permitted, the access should be by ownership, not by easement over another owner’s property.

“The concept is disfavored by the comprehensive plan as it proposes ingress and egress by easement rather than ownership, undersized lots achieved by variances, and the addition of new driveways in an area recognized as traffic sensitive,” the resolution states.

Justice Joseph Santorelli wrote in his November 15 decision that Zuhusky’s attorneys had argued that the Planning Board decision was “an error of law, arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion.” He did not agree, writing that the Planning Board “clearly set out its reasoning related to the Comprehensive Plan which was adopted by the Village on September 20, 2022.”

He pointed out that the comprehensive plan was adopted after the ZBA granted variances for the plan and after the Planning Board approved a sketch plan in 2018.

“The respondent planning board’s determination was not arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion,” he wrote. “In making its determination, the respondent considered all of the statutory factors and used the requisite balancing test.”

Simultaneously, Santorelli ruled on two motions. In one, he turned down a request from Zuhusky’s attorneys to have the Planning Board’s attorneys, from the law firm of Egan & Golden LLP, disqualified from participating in the case, based on two members of Egan & Golden LLP having previously belonged to the firm of Margolin Besunder, which had represented the neighbors who had attempted to overturn the ZBA’s decision. In the other motion, he granted one of those neighbors, Eric Ruttenberg, permission to intervene in the case.

Santorelli wrote that the petitioners did not present “competent proof or a reasonable basis” to disqualify Egan & Golden LLP, and he found that Ruttenberg “does have a real and substantial interest in the outcome of the proceedings.”

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