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February 26, 2014

War Of Words Escalates


Don't invite Eric Shultz and Gary Vegliante to the same party.

Vegliante, responding to an article in last week's Independent (See www.indyeastend.com), charged this week that Shultz, president of the Southampton Town Trustees, "has a personal vendetta against me."

The two warring bodies are involved in costly litigation on several fronts; the Village of West Hampton Dunes won the most recent battle when a State Supreme Court ruled the trustees shouldn't be allowed to handle their own finances. The Town of Southampton then ordered the trustees to freeze all accounts and turn them over to the town.

At issue is a decade-old fight to control prized property on Moriches Bay in the Dunes. A handful of property owners there – and some shrewd investors – formed their own village and then sued the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild the ocean beach on Dune Road – at one point houses were literally sitting on stilts in the water. When the rear portions of their properties fronting Moriches Bay began to swell due to accretion, the trustees claimed the land, once bottomland, belonged to them. The property owners wanted to build on the land, and in some cases subdivide it. Several investors made a fortune on the deals.

"This is about the sovereign home rule of this village," Vegliante said this week. "Nothing gives them the right to determine zoning here. They shroud themselves in the environmental blanket. It's ridiculous."

Both sides say they want the matter settled in court, and both claim the other side is stalling to prevent that from happening.

The two sides almost had a settlement in place two years ago but it fell apart. And though prior administrations led by Skip Heaney and Linda Kabot have been supportive of the trustees and readily funded their legal bills, current Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst has been reluctant to continue the battle. The trustees say privately the settlement engineered by the town attorney was a "cave-in" and would have opened the door for more litigation.

Vegliante asserted the trustees have it out for him. He pointed to an Appellate Division 2003 decision involving Louis Buoninfante that went against the trustees.

Buoninfante, his neighbor, like Vegliante, wanted to build on the north side of his property and the trustees opposed it.

Shultz said the trustees lost the case because the town-appointed attorney "made a pathetic argument."

As for the state of the trustees' finances, Shultz said, "It's our contention we are entitled to an automatic stay pending appeal."

Vegliante cites a 1974 State Comptroller's opinion that concluded the trustees were under the jurisdiction of the town when it came to their finances.

"That's just what it says it is, an opinion," Shultz said. "It's not worth the paper it's printed on."

Shultz said it would be helpful if the state legislature clarified the authority of the trustees.

"It comes up periodically that there is a need for the legislature to clarify something like this," said Assemblyman Fred Thiele. "But until there is a final, final, final court decision, the legislature won't do anything."

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