June 14, 2006
Crackdown On Code Enforcement
Code enforcement: It is the single most critical issue facing East End supervisors and residents today. Reports of noise, overcrowded and illegal summer shares and housing, and other contentious quality of life issues abound.
And, across the board, as the summer months loom, the questions remain: How can year-round residents, bound by geographical constraints, manage to continue to live and work peacefully during steamy months when an influx of seasonal visitors leads to flared tempers and a surge in blatant violations?
The five towns, already laboring to deal with the illegal immigrant housing problems, face violations from both sides of the economic spectrum come summer, grappling with high-end group houses on one hand and illegal basement dwellings and overcrowded modestly-sized houses as well.
In Southampton, ads for summer shares pop up like dandelions long before the first spring breezes ever sweep across the East End. Last week, a quick Google search found a number of eager New York City young, urban professionals eager to solicit a group and head out to the Hamptons for a summer of illegal revelry in overcrowded beach homes.
Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney said the town does monitor these "illegal share activities." Although he said he was not in a position "to elaborate more at this time," Heaney reported the town is in the process of a series of investigations, "infiltrating" and doing inventory in regard to illegal shares.
Southampton Councilman Chris Nuzzi, in charge of quality of life issues for the town board, said that the town is involved in an ongoing quest to locate offenders. "Anything that we're aware of, we're certainly following up on with our town attorney's office," he said, adding that an "aggressive effort" was made in the town a few years ago, when Southampton code enforcement officials "started cracking down on some of these summer share houses," similar to current efforts in neighborhoods now.
"When people are flagrantly abusing or violating our code, be it an overcrowded condition in a home, or they've added an illegal extension, or anything along those lines, or general dilapidated structures and appearance, we're going to start enforcing our laws, and people should take that seriously," Nuzzi said. "We want to make sure they're notified that it's not acceptable."
In the last several months, agreed Heaney and Nuzzi, code enforcement and the town attorney's efforts have been "very aggressive," resulting in the uncovering of an illegal Hamptons home packed with 17 residents.
Heaney said that efforts to curtail reported prom houses, houses rented by students for a "rite of passage" that often result in drug or alcohol use, have been successful. In fact, said Heaney, he has received thanks for his efforts from parents whose students hail from the Diocese of Rockville Center.
In other municipalities, quality of life issues are the primary concern of constituents. Noise is a big issue in East Hampton, said Supervisor William McGintee. "I think the South Fork is a little more prone to noise violations in the summertime, the partying and the noise. It seems to be a couple steps over the North Fork. Somehow, they decided this was party central."
Recent incidents such as a beach party gone wild, when teen drinkers got out of control and attacked police officers on Sammy's Beach, have brought the issue of underage drinking to the forefront.
"Not only in the bars, but also down on the beaches," said McGintee, "it's an enormous problem with high school and some college kids, plus summer visitors."
If bars are doing their job, he said, kids end up drinking on area beaches. "We're surrounded by water so patrolling the beaches is a difficult problem."
Other hot key issues include the "big problem with overcrowded housing, not just year-round, but summer houses," he said.
McGintee plans to begin a mandatory compliance phase. "If they're not going to voluntarily comply with the rules, we will be going after the landlords with a heavy hand," he said.
In Southold, Town Supervisor Scott Russell has been meeting regularly with a committee of representatives from nearly every department in Town Hall to address the towns' current code enforcement efforts. "Or, should I say, lack of efforts," said Russell.
The supervisor said that there are several initiatives Southold will need to take in the near future if it wants to be serious about making the town's laws and code meaningful.
"From construction without building permits to the very real concerns of illegal housing, we have a host of issues that need to be addressed," said the supervisor.
Russell said he will soon be releasing a series of proposals outlined by his working group to address the issues. He added the summer season is not pertinent, because code enforcement violations occur year- round.
"I do not want to create some despotic regime that cracks down on every little infraction, however, I do plan on ensuring that the town operates under one set of rules for everybody," he said. "If the rules are bad, I am happy to change them. However, why have any rules at all, if we are not serious about enforcing them?"
In Greenport officials have a different viewpoint. "Due to our compact design, diverse population, large waterfront business district, and a state highway that bisects the village, Greenport requires its citizens to have a more tolerant attitude toward differences with neighbors than those living in rural areas," said Mayor David Kapell.
The code provides a framework to mediate disputes and protect the public health, safety, and welfare, he said, adding: "Only in those rare cases where we don't see voluntary compliance from involved parties do we seek to enforce the code judicially."
But on the whole, elected officials are cracking down, and urged residents to do their part.
Nuzzi said while the town cannot see every listing for a share house, residents should notify Town Hall for further investigation. "Obviously, it's very difficult for us to be aware of every single thing that's going on," he said. "If you hear of some flagrant violation, send code enforcement the address."