Letter: Town Must Enforce Coastal Zone Building Rules

My name is Dr. Caterina Violi-Baranello and I live at 2A Makamah Beach Road, Northport, NY.
I have lived there for over 17 years. My property is waterfront and located in a Coastal Erosion Hazard Zone (CEHZ). I am writing this letter as a formal complaint  pertaining to the actions of my neighbor, Nicholas Liolis at 4 Makamah Beach Road, Northport, who applied to the Town of Huntington for a permit to renovate his home.

After applying for and receiving a permit for a renovation, he intentionally and willfully
demolished the structure so that what remained was barren land. This included the full removal
of the basement walls and footings. He did not have a demolition permit and had no
authorization or permits for new construction. He then proceeded to have an excavator dig a
hole for a new foundation, poured footings and poured a new foundation absent any Town
inspections, and began framing a new home/structure without any permits.

When the Town became aware of the construction that was completely contrary to the submitted
plans for renovations to an existing structure with no footprint changes, a stop work order was
issued. The Town acknowledged that he did not have a demolition permit, a permit for a new
home to be built or a Coastal Erosion Hazard Permit. He also did not have any sanitary permits
or inspections for new footings but yet he continued to build. The work was carried out by a
seasoned architect/ builder who knows the laws and requirements, so this was not an accidental
oversight. It was a deliberate action most likely done in the spirit of the old saying that it’s easier
to ask for forgiveness than permission.

My main objection is that Mr. Liolis’ poured his foundation in a different location than the
previous one he demolished. Specifically, the new structure is being constructed both seaward
and closer to the sideyard between our homes. In moving his house closer to the waterfront, Mr.
Liolis has cut-off my western view since the previous home (and other adjacent homes along the
waterfront) were originally constructed the same distance from the waterfront. This allowed
each home to have un-obstructed views (180 degrees) from their windows facing Long Island
Sound as homes are in alignment. This encroachment seaward violates the Town’s strict Coastal
Erosion Hazard Zone (CEHZ) Law that was enacted to keep houses from expanding seaward.

The NYS DEC has jurisdiction over tidal wetland areas, but homes with bulkheads are exempt if
the bulkhead is functional and constructed prior to 1977 when the Tidal Wetlands Act was
enacted. Mr. Liolis has a letter of DEC “Non-Jurisdiction” in terms of the Tidal Wetlands Act as
does just about every property owner on Makamah Beach Road since we all have old bulkheads.
But this should not be confused with the DEC’s CEHZ Law that Huntington adopted and enact
and oversees on behalf of the DEC. The CEHZ Law is a separate process, and has nothing to do
with the Tidal Wetlands Act. Confusing the two would be like saying a person with a valid
driver’s license doesn’t need to register his car, or vice versa.

Around 2010, I applied to the Town Building Department to renovate my home. I was told that I
would not be able to expand seaward and that I could only expand away from the waterfront. At
the time, as part of my renovation I wanted to build a small deck off of my first floor seaward,
but my application was denied by the Town on CEHZ grounds. This was not what I desired.

Although my house was grandfathered-in since it pre-dates the DEC and Town’s CEHZ
enactment, the Town made a determination that there could be no development seaward. I was
also told that if I ever completely demolished my home, I could never rebuild in the same
location and certainly not seaward. I would only be allowed to build behind the boundaries of
the Coastal Erosion Hazard Zone line depicted on the map set forth by NYS – DEC. I was also
told that I could file an appeal. I proceeded to file for a variance, and a Town Board hearing was
scheduled. I hired an experienced and knowledgeable architect and expediter and went formally
before the Town Board at a public hearing. I was directly involved in all steps of the process,
including the denial explanation that provided the reasons why I could not construct seaward.

Ultimately, I was forced to modify my renovation plans to satisfy the requirements set forth by
the Town of Huntington and DEC vis a vis the Coastal Erosion Hazard permit I was issued.
Despite my profound disappointment, I complied and proceeded with my renovation, and
followed all regulations and mandates placed upon me by the Town. In short my request was
denied and I was unable to expand seaward in any way and was only able to expand towards the
road. (Landward)

At this juncture, I am very concerned that Daniel Martin, Director of Engineering, is setting the
stage to not enforce the regulations set forth by the Town and the DEC in spite of the fact that
Mr. Litzke (Maritime Services) denied the new plan. The reason that I make this bold statement
is that when I discussed the aforementioned case with Mr. Martin, he stated that I either
misunderstood 10 years ago in reference to my ability to build seaward, or, the Town of
Huntington made a mistake 10 years ago when they told me that I could not build seaward. I
was actually shocked by his response and I am certain that I neither misunderstood, nor did the
Town make a mistake in their decision not allowing me to construct seaward.

It appears that perhaps Mr. Martin does not understand the difference between a DEC letter of
“Non Jurisdiction” for Tidal Wetland’s activities versus the CEHZ Law and requirements. These
two regulatory requirements are separate and apart from each other! Furthermore, Mr. Martin
seemed to feel that an owner demolishing a house and pouring a new foundation in a different
place is something that can be “cleaned-up” with an after-the-fact variance.

This illegal structure should not be allowed to remain. And there is Town precedence for tearing
it down. About 10 years ago, another homeowner began construction on a new house at 215
Waterside Rd (SCTM# 400-10-2-6). The owner poured the new foundation and began
construction without permits. The Town issued a stop work order. The owner attempted to get a
ZBA variance to keep the structure, but was ultimately denied and forced to tear-down the entire
framed structure and remove the new foundation as well. Today this parcel sits as a vacant lot.

The Town’s action at 215 Waterside Road is similar to what the Village of Northport did with
the much-publicized illegal construction by Tom Kehoe. In these cases, it was good public
policy to see municipalities enforcing the law. Otherwise, you will be giving me and my
neighbors permission to have our houses lifted and moved seaward to match that of Mr. Liolis
without repercussion to restore our views.

Lastly, I want to disclose to you that I have hired an attorney, and provided information to the
DEC’s Legal Department at the Region 1 office in Stony Brook, asking them to intercede and
take an active position pertaining to enforcing the CEHZ Act.

On a more personal note, these are tough times, and it is very unfair that I have to individually
undertake this costly action due to Mr. Martin’s comments defending Mr. Liolis’ actions. But
my home is my sanctuary, and like all my neighbors, we own our homes with the predictability
that everyone must conform to the rules. Yet Mr. Martin’s actions tell me that there is a good
chance that the Town of Huntington may ignore their own law. I cannot sit by idly if the wheels
are in motion to override and allow this home to receive an unjustified and indefensible variance
given the circumstances that includes a self-created hardship by an arrogant owner who flouts the
law.

3 Replies to “Letter: Town Must Enforce Coastal Zone Building Rules”

  1. The premise of this editorial regarding the property owned by the neighbor is false: neither Building Department Director Dan Martin, the Building Department nor the Town is allowing any illegal building activity to proceed. While I feel for Dr. Violi-Baranelli, whose application was denied 11 years ago by the prior Town administration, the Town has done everything right in the situation that presents itself today.

    In September 2020, the NYS DEC issued a declaration of nonjurisdiction for the application at 4 Makamah Beach Road, as coastal erosion mitigation is in place with the existing sea wall, so after consulting with their Environmental Projects Coordinator during the initial review process, Maritime concluded that the construction was permissible and a permit was issued by the Building Department.

    The Supervisor’s office received a complaint from Dr. Violi-Baranelli regarding construction on this property on January 25th, and we had the Building Department investigate immediately, as is the process when any alleged violation is reported. The Building Inspector found work had been done that was not in conformance with the building permit and they issued a Stop Work Order on January 27th.

    When 4 Makamah Beach Road submitted a new application in order to lift the Stop Work Order, it was denied by the Maritime Services Department during its environmental review process. Additionally, two Notices of Violation were issued by Code Enforcement, a summons was issued by the Maritime Services Department and a Notice of Violation was in the process of being issued by Maritime last week.

  2. I was initially hesitant to comment on this but as time has passed today, I have gone back to read Dr. Violi’s letter three times. I cannot hold back!

    Clearly Ms. Lembo you are quick to respond but lack reading comprehension skills.

    If you actually take the time to read her letter, it is accurate with many verifiable statements but you have eliminated facts, in your response.
    • The building permit granted initially was for a RENOVATION
    • Instead, they tore the house down without permits and started to build a new home.
    • The plans and permit did not reflect their intentions.
    • She stated that the town issued a stop work order.

    Dr. Violi shows a clear concern that Mr. Martin does not understand the difference between a Tidal Wetlands letter of Non-Jurisdiction and a Coastal Erosion Hazard Zone permit, and obviously, neither do you. The Tidal Wetlands Non-jurisdiction letter is not a permit to build “within” the CEHZ zone. I know this as I owned waterfront property for 15 years within the Coast Erosion Hazard Zone (CEHZ). They are two totally different permits that regulate different things. The home is located well within the CEHZ defined area as a matter of fact, all of the homes on the sound side of the street are squarely in this zone. A Non-Jurisdiction letter does not pick up the home and mysteriously transport it out of the CEHZ area nor does it delineate the “seawall” as a line in which you can do whatever you wish behind. There are very serious restrictions placed on what you can do to your home within this area. One thing I know for sure, is that if you are unlucky enough to loose your home in a hurricane, or stupid enough to tear it down, it’s game over and you are out of luck to rebuild it within that zone. There are reasons for this. Surely the architect would be aware of Building 101, “never tear down a house on a whim without a permit and start to build something you have no permit for!” There was a gentleman that ran Maritime Services several years ago that I dealt with that was extremely knowledgeable on these regulations. He could recite the law/restrictions chapter and verse and why it was implemented to begin with. I notice he isn’t mentioned.

    Dr. Violi has done her homework along with detailed research. She knows that everyone can appeal and apply for a variance. It’s black and white. If you really read her letter, you will realize that Dr.Violi has developed a very clear suspicion of the towns intentions no matter how many departments have issued a paper violation like you said. It is obvious to me that remarks were made to her that make her question whether the town will do the right thing. After all, lets be honest, we have all seen things mysteriously slide in thru the back door and become granted under darkness. So it brings me to one question, have any of the “posse of 5” or town attorney personally reached out to her by phone, met with her, met her at her home, looked at the debacle and shown genuine concern or given her any assurance that the town will abide by the mandated NYS-DEC laws and do the right thing in the end? Or have they just pushed it to their aides or Dan Martin to figure it out and make it go away? This is exactly how the Town gets themselves into a mess time after time.

    I feel very sorry for Dr. Violi-Baranello. Who needs this aggravation especially after following the rules and abiding by the legal requirements herself. This is an election year and there should be no pause for a single moment in doing the right thing in this matter. The town should be angered by the fact that a homeowner/builder/architect took such advantage of them. I’m sure people will be watching this closely as it could set a terrible precedent for the continuation of “will nilly!”

  3. Apparently Mr. Saltric did not read the opening sentence of my comment: I wrote that the *premise* of the letter is false but I did not refute the details mentioned nor Dr. Violi-Baranelli’s own stated experience. The doctor writes “I am very concerned that Daniel Martin, Director of Engineering, is setting the stage to not enforce the regulations set forth by the Town and the DEC…” The Town is doing everything as it should in this case, illegal construction is not being condoned, unless you call issuing a stop work order, three notices of violation, and a summons to be prosecuted in court “not enforcing the regulations set forth by the Town and the DEC.” Any assumption that the Town is acting in bad faith is simply wrong and misguided. The applicant has been told by our Maritime Services Environmental Projects Coordinator that they must apply for a variance with the Coastal Erosion Hazard Review Board as the project is now considered a major addition/development, as it exceeds the threshold to be considered a minor addition.

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