Attorney Looks To Cap Tenants As Part Of Proposed Motel Conversion

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An attorney representing the owners of a Hampton Bays motel that has been operating illegally as an apartment complex for years is asking the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals to legalize the conversion under the condition that the 16 units be limited to two residents each.

John Bennett, who represents Domenico and Vincenza Iadevaia of Carle Place, said he proposed the condition during the July 18 ZBA meeting in order to quell concerns that granting the variance would burden the Hampton Bays School District. The board was poised to issue a decision on the variance during its meeting in June, but delayed that action at Mr. Bennett’s request.

Opponents to the conversion, most members of the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays, a civic association, have said the variance would burden the district’s three schools, which are already grappling with the hamlet’s high density and relatively small tax base.

The complex, called Tiana Pines Garden Apartments, sits off Montauk Highway, and officials said two children currently living there attend the school district. Hampton Bays Superintendent of Schools Lars Clemensen wrote in a letter to the ZBA, dated July 16, that he and the Board of Education oppose all variances that would convert commercial properties to residences and increase enrollment in the schools.

“We have a small tax base and a large tax rate—and in addition to educating the students, I have to put forth a budget to the community that they can sustain,” Mr. Clemensen said when reached on Monday.

During last week’s meeting, Mr. Bennett said he thought Mr. Clemensen’s comments were “out of line” and “elitist.” “He has an obligation to educate every student,” the attorney added.

Mr. Clemensen explained this week that he will educate all the students in his district to the best of his ability, but added that he has a responsibility to comment on decisions that could adversely impact his ability to provide a competitive education.

Eric Bregman, an attorney from Farrell Fritz, P.C., who represents the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays, has argued that the owners abandoned the preexisting motel use by renting the rooms as apartments for years, making it illegal for the ZBA to approve the conversion request. He added that limiting the number of residents to two does not eliminate the possibility of additional children attending the district.

“It’s not beneficial to the community,” Mr. Bregman said of the proposed conversion.

Mr. Bennett has argued that the town granted the permits and a certificate of occupancy for the complex before the town code differentiated between apartments and motels, giving his clients the right to continue renting the units as apartments. “We just happen to be the most convenient target right now, but this unit is not causing the ills that we’re being accused of causing,” he said during the meeting.

He added that it is not economically feasible for the owners to retrofit the structure for an office or retail use, as permitted by the town code.

“They mean no harm to the community,” he said of the property owners. “They’re good-standing members of the community, and I think that counts for a lot.”

ZBA members voted unanimously to continue allowing written public comment on the application until Thursday, July 25. Mr. Bennett’s office will then have an additional week to submit written materials, and the board said it would have a decision ready when it meets on Thursday, September 5.

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