An extensive array of code violations at a home in the Northwest section and the installation of giant new utility poles were the big news in East Hampton this week.
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On Monday night Supervisor Larry Cantwell reported Sydney Griffin of 82 Northwest Landing Road was arraigned in Justice Court on 28 charges related to zoning and building code violations on his property.
The charges stem from a January 24 complaint of deplorable living conditions at the property. Town hall sources say the complaint originated from the town's human services office. They described Griffin as "an elderly dementia patient."
In a release describing the enforcement action, Cantwell described conditions at the house as "simply outrageous."
"Not only was the single-family house converted into four separate living units for four different groups of people, but there was no heat and there was refuse and food waste throughout the inside of the house," he said. "Portable electrical heaters were found in each of the illegal units being run on extension cords that were strung throughout the house. Everyone, including the defendant, living in the house was at a severe risk of danger due to a possible fire."
In addition to code enforcement officers and building department staff, East Hampton Town Police also responded to the scene when unsecured firearms were discovered at the premises. A family member of the defendant voluntarily surrendered the firearms to police custody, the supervisor reported.
"The coordinated response by Code Enforcement and the Building Department, with an assist from the Town Police, is exactly what we expect from our public safety agencies. The Town will not tolerate landlords putting people's lives at risk in order to maximize their profits. This is a prime example of how coordinating the efforts of all of our public safety agencies to ensure safe and legal housing throughout our Town will lead to improvement in the quality of life for all our residents," added Supervisor Cantwell.
However, a source familiar with the case called the use of an elderly dementia client with diminished mental capacity as the face of the administration's new philosophy of aggressive enforcement initiative "disgusting." Citing confidentiality law, Human Services Director Diane Patrizio declined to comment on the situation.
According to the press release, the same defendant pleaded guilty to four charges in November 2011 in satisfaction of a docket of 28 other building and zoning code violations at the same property.
Also this week, a contingent of community members from the SAVE EH: Safe, Responsible Energy group appeared before the town board last Thursday night. Citing potential health hazards and decreased property and scenic values, they urged members to help them slow PSEG Long Island's replacement of utility poles. Group members expressed interest in pursuing a stop work order in court, but as of press time had not.
"They're bulldozing their way through our town," Helene Forst declared.
The utility is replacing existing poles with taller, higher voltage versions. According to Jeffrey Weir, director of communications for PSEG, the East Hampton to Amagansett Overhead Transmission Line Project was designed to make the existing distribution line "more resilient." Opponents to the project want the utility to bury the lines, or use areas that don't impact residential communities. Weir described the project as a "pole for pole" replacement.
Forst complained the utility failed to conduct a legally required environmental review of the project before proceeding. In a telephone interview on Monday, Weir articulated a timeline of the project's process, which did include an environmental assessment and ultimately a negative declaration related to the potential for impact to the environment. The state historic preservation office also conducted an assessment and signed off.
Last spring, meetings were held with both town and village officials and, reported Weir, an "open house" was held last fall to detail the project. Speaking to concerns raised by the group about the safety of the higher voltage lines, Weir said "Those issues were all looked at and addressed. An environmental analysis was absolutely done." The higher level of the voltage on new, additional distribution lines, he said, is "common across the United States and across Long Island."
At the town board meeting last Thursday night, Supervisor Larry Cantwell reported that he'd had discussions with Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach, and discussions with the town attorney as to what role the town might play "are ongoing," he said.
The SAVE EH Facebook page invited community members to voice their concerns at the town board work session, which was underway as The Independent went to press.