The Dunes Will Need Further Review By East Hampton Town Planning Board

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The Dunes East Hampton, a substance abuse treatment home, will need to obtain a special permit through site plan review from the East Hampton Town Planning Board to continue operating.

The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals on May 14 decided to back up a determination by Senior Building Inspector Tom Preiato that the business is operating as an unauthorized semi-public facility in a residential zone. That determination was the subject of an appeal to the ZBA by Safe Harbor Retreat LLC, the owner of the The Dunes East Hampton.

A public hearing on the appeal was held before the ZBA on March 12, at which Joseph Campolo, a Bohemia attorney representing The Dunes, and Jeffrey Bragman, an East Hampton attorney representing about 30 neighbors who live near the facility on 26 Bull Run in Northwest Woods, argued the issue. The ZBA voted 4-1 to back up Mr. Preiato’s determination. ZBA Vice Chairman Don Cirillo was the lone nay vote.

“The majority of the board felt that there was enough evidence that was presented at the hearing and in the written testimony that it had the attributes of a clinic, which is defined in the code as a semi-public facility,” said Chairman Alex Walter when reached by phone on Monday. “In that case, it needs review from the Planning Board.”

The Dunes’ history with the town dates back to even before it opened in November 2010 and involves federal litigation between the facility and the town. Before the business opened its doors, town officials, including Mr. Preiato, endorsed it. The building inspector ruled that the residents were legally “functioning as a family unit.” He then reversed his earlier determination in a memo following a complaint about the facility a year later, in which he noted that the transient nature of the residents made him determine it required site plan approval.

The Dunes sued East Hampton Town in January 2012 in U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, claiming the town violated its constitutional rights and both the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Dunes has since withdrawn its suit.

The ZBA brought in an outside attorney, Joseph Prokop, to help with the matter, instead of using an attorney from the town attorney’s office. That’s because the town attorney’s office wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest because Madeleine Narvilas, a former assistant town attorney who later left the town to work at The Dunes, was “involved with this particular applicant when they first went to get their certificate of occupancy,” according to Mr. Walter.

The Dunes could challenge the ZBA’s decision in court. Mr. Campolo didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on Monday. There’s no guarantee that the Planning Board would approve a special permit for The Dunes. And even so, if approved, The Dunes must return to the ZBA to get approvals for area variances, said Mr. Walter.

Mr. Bragman said the evidence he presented to the ZBA proved that the facility was fully staffed with medical employees and serving as a clinic.

“The ZBA happily did what it’s supposed to do,” Mr. Bragman said.

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