East Hampton Town Building Inspector Issues Certificate of Occupancy For Disputed Montauk Property

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Despite testimony and letters from Ditch Plains residents who oppose the resurrection of a defunct motel on Ditch Plains Road in Montauk, East Hampton Town’s building inspector has issued the motel’s owner a certificate of occupancy—which opponents say they now will likewise challenge.

The attorney representing the community group known as Ditch Plains Association said this week that he had been trying to dissuade the town from issuing the certificate of occupancy. He said the association will either file an appeal with the Zoning Board of Appeals or go to court seeking to reverse the action.

“I think this is a mistake to issue a certificate of occupancy,” attorney Christopher Kelley said. “We have ample evidence that we will display, once we decide what forum we want to do it in, to show this abandoned use.”

Residents have argued that the motel—a preexisting, non-conforming use in a residential zone—was not open for years and is therefore no longer entitled to its special status.

The 0.46-acre lot at 11 Ditch Plains Road has one single-family home and an eight-unit motel, which began operating in the 1950s and was later known as the Rogues Motel in the 1970s. A tax lien was placed on the property in 2009, and it was acquired by Suffolk County in 2013.

Hotelier Sean MacPherson bought the property in 2014 and obtained building permits that allow exterior work, as well as painting and new windows and doors on the motel units.

The property had been previously zoned for a motel, and when the lot’s zoning was changed to residential in 1984, the hotel was granted preexisting, non-conforming status, allowing it to continue to operate as a motel. However, once abandoned, a property loses that special zoning status.

While Mr. MacPherson and his attorney, Richard Hammer, have maintained that the structure has remained in limited use, keeping its preexisting, non-conforming status as a motel, the Ditch Plains Association says it is concerned that the return of a full motel use will add density to the residential area and cause further issues with wastewater runoff.

The association has presented neighbor testimonies saying the motel has been unoccupied for several years and, most recently, a 2005 letter from the former town fire marshal to the former owner of the property, Albert Forsberg, which Mr. Kelley called a “smoking gun.”

In the letter, former Fire Marshal James Dunlop states that the building was unoccupied, the electricity was turned off and a complete inspection could not be done.

But in his last letter to the town building inspector, Daniel Casey, and the town attorney’s office, Mr. Hammer stated that his client had satisfied all the town’s requirements—valid building permits, documentation and inspections—and would undergo significant economic loss if work on the motel is held up any longer.

“Mr. Kelley’s latest revelation, which he deems a ‘smoking gun,’ is more aptly characterized as just plain smoke, which does nothing to answer the actual question of whether there was a true abandonment over the period of time needed under the town code,” Mr. Hammer wrote.

He said the inspection done by Mr. Dunlop in 2005 was from a single day in March, which is typically when the vast majority of homes and commercial properties in the area are uninhabited.

On Monday, Mr. Casey said that the documentation he was given was in compliance with the town’s requirements, according to the town attorney’s office.

But the Ditch Plains Association argues that Mr. Hammer and his client, Mr. MacPherson, still have not proved the motel was not abandoned.

“The applicant has not once provided any evidence whatsoever of continued occupancy,” the Association said in a statement. “The fire marshal files clearly show occupancy was prohibited after 2005 pending a property re-inspection that didn’t occur until 2015. Our residential community, and especially the abutting neighbors, are significantly harmed by the increase in density, noise and septic effluent that this property with 10 bedrooms, nine kitchens, and nine bathrooms on a 50-foot-wide parcel located within wetlands and utilizing antiquated cesspools represents.”

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