Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Staredown at the Village Courtroom

The clock in the Mamaroneck Village Courtroom during the Village Board's June 25 meeting may have said 8 p.m., but the temperature in there was more like high noon when Benedict Salanitro took the microphone.

Salanitro, who lives on Linden Street and is a principal in Benmar Properties, LLC, has, for more than a year, been pitted against nine of his Rye Neck neighbors, residents of Brook Street and Beach Avenue, over a house Benmar has half-built at 609 Brook Street. 609 Brook Street is a subdivision of 601 Brook Street, a lot with one house, which Benmar bought and partitioned. The splitting of the lot was made possible by a variance, which, the neighbors successfully argued in a 2006 Article 78 petition, was improperly granted by the village's Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) on May 9, 2006.

The now-invalidated variance cleared the way for a building permit to be issued for 609 Brook, even though the depth of the new lot was roughly five feet less than what is required by the village zoning code. On receiving the permit late last spring, Benmar immediately began construction of a house of generous size, despite the filing of the Article 78.

By Jan. 9, 2007, when New York State Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Lippman ruled against the variance, the shell of the house was already up. The court decision, however, obligated Building Inspector Richard Carroll to issue a stop-work order, and the structure has remained shrouded in Tyvek ever since.

In his decision, Judge Lippman agreed with the Article 78 petitioners' claim that the ZBA should have been guided by a 1991 zoning board decision that denied a similar request for a subdivision at the same address on the ground that such a subdivision would have violated the historic character of the Tompkins' Farm neighborhood, where Brook Street intersects with Beach Avenue. Judge Lippman also rejected Benmar's subsequent request to reargue the case.

Salanitro's attorney at the time, Paul Noto, filed a notice that reserved Benmar's right to appeal Judge Lippman's ruling, but Noto also hinted at a possible remedy that could avoid further court action and enable Benmar to simply go back to the zoning board.

That remedy was Benmar's recent purchase of a 40' x 5+' strip of land from the owners of 307 Beach Avenue, whose side yard abuts the rear of the Benmar construction site. The addition of the transferred strip to 609 Brook Street deepens the Benmar lot by more than five feet and could, thus, eliminate any need for a variance.

But this range war won't be over 'til it's over.

The Article 78 petitioners had gotten wind of a possible land purchase a year ago, and, on June 21, they filed an appeal with the zoning board challenging two letters written by Building Inspector Carroll, one to Benmar on March 1 and another, on May 30, to the owners of 307 Beach, assuring them that the transfer of land between them would create no zoning code problems.

In one of the letters, Carroll stated that he had based his opinion, in part, on "my review of. . . the zoning analysis dated February 8, 2007 (Sheet S-1). . .." However, according to petitioner Stuart Tiekert, it seems that there is no written zoning analysis designated as "Sheet S-1". Tiekert shared an e-mail he sent to Carroll, in which he reminded him, "In our conversation you said that the 'zoning analysis dated February 8, 2007 (Sheet S-1)' was not actually a document but, as you said, 'just in my head,' even though you referred to it as both 'dated'" and as "'(Sheet S-1)' . .."

According to another petitioner, Nora Lucas, Carroll told her that he didn't recall the lawsuit over the variance granted for 609 Brook Street.

Reached by telephone, Carroll declined to comment on the Brook Street controversey, except to say that Benmar had bought the additional lot.

Salanitro, meanwhile, had gotten wind of the fact that the petitioners would be appearing at the June 25 meeting of the Village Board, which had on its agenda that night the approval of the village assessor's redesignation of Benmar's newly acquired lot. So Salanitro headed them off at the pass and got to the microphone before they did.

He told the trustees that their approval of the assessor's assignment of lot numbers to "property which has been conveyed between private parties" was merely "ministerial." Although the Mamaroneck board has, historically, approved such designations, he said, it never had any basis in law to do so. Village Attorney Lino Sciaretta confirmed that any action by the board would be only "pro forma" because it is "within the assessor's authority to create new tax identification numbers and to preserve the integrity of the tax roll."

Salanitro demanded that the board either vote to approve the new lot designation or take it off the agenda. Trustee Tom Murphy noted that he was "not interested in voting on something I have no power to vote on."

But, before Murphy could finish his thought and agree with Salanitro that the matter should be removed from the agenda, Salanitro warned, "If you're not gonna vote on it tonight, then we'll go to court tomorrow and have a mandamus action against the village, and you don't want that. . .you'll pay more court fees."

"Don't come up here threatening us." Murphy retorted.

"Tom Murphy," Salanitro came back, "you've been staring me down all night. If you want to stare me down, we'll go outside and stare down!"

"You want to go outside and stare down?" Murphy asked, with an incredulous laugh.

"I'm tired of being pushed around," Salanitro replied.

"You," Murphy told him, "pushed around your whole neighborhood."

And, as Mayor Phil Trifiletti urged that "everybody take a deep breath," the lawman on duty, Sergeant Gerard Ferraro, quietly approached Salanitro and, with one hand on his shoulder and the other on his arm, guided him out of the room.

Salanitro came back later and, saying he had, in the interim, smoked five cigarettes, apologized to the board, to Murphy and to the public.

Between his exit and re-entrance, Lucas presented the petitioners' view that Carroll had erred in saying that 307 Beach Ave., minus the land sold to Benmar, is zoning compliant and that, since Judge Lippman overturned the 2006 variance, 609 Brook reverted back to being part of the 601 Brook Street lot, from which it was carved. That, she said, means that there is no longer a subdivision but only one lot, 601,with two houses-- its original house, which Benmar doubled in size, and the partially constructed new house.

Lucas went on to say that no building permit should be issued until the legal action comes to some kind of end and until a State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process is completed. The SEQRA process, she explained, is dictated by the fact that the house at 617 Brook Street, next door to 609 Brook, has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Lucas made three requests of the trustees:

--that they require that the SEQRA process be complied with;

--that the Board of Trustees be the lead agency for that process; and

--that the board direct the building inspector to not issue any building permit for 609 Brook Street until there is a resolution of the court case.

No action was taken on these requests, but approval of the assignment of a lot number to Benmar's newly purchased property was removed from the agenda.



Anonymous said...

I think that it should be pointed out that the mayor never does anything with out putting it off for as long as possible before making a decision. and his response to Bennie was immediate plus Bennie's knowledge of the law and a writ of mandemus could have only been prompted by a lawyer. And with Lino Sciaretta putting in his two cents, at the right moment I might add. I do not believe in coincidences.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to suggest to the Village to change its name to Mamoronick, I live nearby and am every time surprised by how it is run. Such amateurism in management on the Board and Administration sides (including PD) combined with such narrow-mindedness and aggressivity in pursuing private goals (especially linked to real estate) is mindboggling.

Anonymous said...

It is entirely plausible that Benny would use the leagal term "mandamus"in his outburst to the Board. What's clearly NOT possible is that Benny would have the intellectual capacity to compose the statement he read to the Board. Remember, his brother Fred is, allegedly, an attorney. What is extraordinary is that the matter was voted on BEFORE Nora Lucas was ever given a chance to address the Board. As the person holding the gavel, this was shockingly done intentionally by the Mayor for no other reason than to ram through this abominable action. Mayor Trifiletti is fully complicit with Lino Sciaretta in subverting the rights of the people of this village and empowering real estate self dealings by a few favorite supporters or friends. It is the total network at work: Fraioli, Vozza, Gabrielle, Angelletta, Salenitro, and others. All of them have been either in elected or appointed positions in Mamaroneck. All have real estate interests within the village. All are members of the Club. And all are tainted, one way or another, by self-dealing, blatant conflict of interest, and highly provable failures to disclose obvious conflicts regarding basic land use decsions. The clear fact is this latest Salenitro fiasco was wired from the get go. Remember, the one constant in ALL these outrageous land use scams is the complete involvement of Mayor Trifiletti and Richard Carroll, his enabling though pathetic building inspector. None of this could occur without Carroll's signing off on it. Maybe the building inspector is not so dumb after all. Perhaps he's being graciously reqrded financially for his "hard" work of four days a week. In any event, no one in the village will touch him and the Mayor continues to support him. Ever wonder why???? PLEASE continue to expose this rampant and obvious corruption.