A raging controversy over a Hampton Bays motel being used as a homeless shelter took a new turn this week when the County Commissioner of Social Service abruptly resigned.
Gregory Blass, who had made a personal visit to The Independent office last week to make his case for the shelter, was at odds with Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who in the end had the ear of County Executive Steve Bellone.
Throne-Holst visited Bellone earlier this month to complain about the Hidden Cove Motel on West Tiana Drive; about 30 units had been filled with social services recipients, though a county law limits the number of homeless units in any one location to 12.
"I would resign," Blass told The Independent, if Bellone intervened on Throne-Holst's behalf. It proved to be a prophetic statement.
Three rent paying tenants complained they were being forced out of their dwellings because the county was willing to pay the landlord, LAML Realty, considerably more in rent. The tenants who received eviction notices included an 88 year-old woman and her disabled daughter. Their monthly rent had abruptly been raised from about $700 to $1150 when the county began moving SS recipients in. The county reportedly pays an additional fee to the Community Housing Initiative (CHI) to manage the facility, provide transportation to residents, and staff the facility with security personnel.
Blass said the facility was a "crime center" before DSS took it over, and claimed local police "thanked me" for making it safer.
Neighbors who live on the block told a different tale however, claiming among other things that residents stole their mail and that managers at the motel harassed those neighbors who complained. Police had to be called to quell disruptions several times.
Throne-Holst complained that the change of use from a transient motel to a homeless shelter was illegal under the town code. Blass said he believed state law took precedence over the county and town codes.
Not so, said Tiffany Scarlato, a Southampton Town Attorney, "if the local law is more stringent than the state law it takes precedence," she said.
Scarlato sent Blass a letter on January 3 warning that if Hidden Cove didn't address the zoning issues the town would sue.
Bellone "assured me it wouldn't come to that," Throne-Holst reported after her meeting with the county executive. "He said plans were being implemented for an alternate program."
No one is publicly linking Blass's resignation with the Hidden Cove controversy. In fact, Bellone went out of his way to praise Blass.
"It is with profound respect for his distinguished career in public service that I accept the resignation of Gregory Blass as Commissioner of the Department of Social Services," he wrote in a press release. "Commissioner Blass has been involved in public service for more than 35 years in positions ranging from Presiding Officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, New York State Family Court Judge, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services and as a JAG Officer in the United States Navy. Given Commissioner Blass' unique resume, it will be impossible to fill his shoes with someone of equivalent experience."
The resignation didn't help the plight of Nick Saridakis, another resident and vocal critic of Blass and CHI who is being evicted from Hidden Cove. The sheriff's office sent an officer to his dwelling the day before Blass resigned and ordered him to vacate the premises within 72 hours. As of this writing it has not been rescinded, though Throne-Holst alerted Bellone on Friday and asked the town attorney to look into the matter.
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