Riverhead Town probes legality of new S. Jamesport house

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The house on Green Street in South Jamesport.

A new house under construction in South Jamesport has drawn the ire of some neighbors, who are saying it’s too big and out of character with the neighborhood and that it’s built on a higher grade than other area houses and will cause rainwater to flood onto their properties.

They also question how the town even allowed it to be built.

“His cesspools are going to be at the same level as his neighbor’s windows,” said neighbor Larry Simms, who owns a home across the street. “And an area that gets flooded already is going to get flooded even more because of this.”

Mr. Simms said the home covers 30 percent of the lot, and code only permits 15 percent coverage in this area.

The Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association has also begun looking into the issue, according to its president, Georgette Keller.

“We’ve heard some grumblings about it,” she said. The issue was brought to their attention by Mr. Simms, she said.

But the owner of the house says he has all the necessary permits, that other neighbors have complimented him on the house and that it’s being built according to “green” standards and will retain rainwater on its property.

The house is located on Green Street, across from Dunlookin Lane, and is owned by Glen Ravn of Rockville Centre, who purchased it in late 2010 and says he plans to live in it himself. Construction began shortly after he bought the land.

The lot in question was originally part of a 32,000-square-foot parcel that was granted a subdivision in 2003 by the Zoning Board of Appeals, which carved it into two 16,000-square-foot lots.

Zoning in the area is RB40, which requires a minimum lot size of 40,000 square feet, or approximately one acre. But the ZBA granted the subdivision in 2003, shortly before the Town Board was set to approve a new Master Plan that called for new zoning in 2004. The prior zoning called for minimum lot sizes of 20,000 square feet.

While subdivisions are normally the jurisdiction of the Planning Board, the applicant at the time, Ashley Homes of LI, had applied for an area variance from the ZBA to allow the smaller lots, and was approved. In 2005, the ZBA also granted a one-year extension of that variance.

When Ashley Homes submitted a subdivision application to the Planning Board in 2005, it was rejected on the grounds that it didn’t comply with the new zoning. Ashley Homes took the Planning Board to court on that ruling, and was successful in both in state Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals, which ruled that the Planning Board could not overrule the ZBA’s verdict.
The 2007 Court of Appeals ruling did point out, however, that the ZBA approval had expired, although it said there was nothing in the ruling prohibiting the applicant from applying for a further extension.

On Dec. 14, 2010, the town building department sent a letter to Mr. Ravn saying he needed to apply for an extension of the ZBA approval.

Mr. Ravn said in an interview this week that he didn’t recall seeing that letter, but that even so, he doesn’t believe he needs an extension.

“I already have a building permit. I have a letter from the town engineer confirming that this a separate lot. I’ve got approvals from the health department,” he said.

“Every agency has already recognized this as approved and taken the fees. I’ve even paid the Pine Barrens tax,” he said, referring to the 2 percent tax on real estate transfers for land preservation.

Ashley Homes, which still owns the other 16,000-square-foot lot that resulted from the subdivision.

But Ashley Homes president Ashok Agrawal told the News-Review he doesn’t want Mr. Ravn using the approvals he received, adding that the house currently being built doesn’t conform to the plans for which he had previously received a building permit. Mr. Agrawal sent a letter to the building department in December asking that Mr. Ravn not be allowed to his permit. The building department wrote back, saying it was too late, because construction had already started.

“The permit is in my name, but I’m not building, so I want it discontinued,” Mr. Agrawal said in an interview Tuesday. “I used my insurance to get this permit, and I don’t want to be held responsible if something goes wrong.”

He said he has already received a letter from the building department telling him to install a fence around the property, even though it’s no longer his property.

Mr. Agrawal said the grade on the property is higher than his plans called for, and the building is taller than zoning allows.
Mr. Ravn told the News-Review that the building and the grade of the land are required to be at the heights at which he’s building them because “of a new law in which I must be above the 100-year flood plain.”

Mr. Ravn said the house is designed to capture rainwater before it runs into the street.

“I have to take all the water off the roof and put it into dry wells,” he said. “Most of them time when you have runoff problems, it’s from water running off the property, but the biggest footprint here is the house itself, which is designed to capture rainwater and prevent it from going into the street.”

Mr. Ravn said he is an engineer and builds “green” houses himself.

Riverhead Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said his office is investigating the complaints brought by Mr. Simms, but he couldn’t comment on the case since it’s under investigation. He did say, however, that it does have a building permit and, with regard to the ZBA approval, that approvals generally run with the land, not the landowner.

Mr. Simms said Mr. Kozakiewicz has been investigating the case for more than six weeks.

“What’s taking him so long?” he asked a reporter. “And why don’t they shut down the construction while they’re investigating? Each day the structure is closer to completion it will be harder to make them undo it if something is built illegally. I’ve seen too many compromises in our community, in which rules are broken, mistakes are discovered too late and project owners pay a nominal fine and get exactly what they wanted.”

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said he was not familiar enough with the case to comment.

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