Property owners: Town hasn’t lived up to its end of settlement

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Property owners near Wading River Beach are saying the Town of Riverhead has not complied with a settlement regarding property rights from 2011.

The Wading River beachfront homeowners who brought a $1 million federal lawsuit against the town claiming it was not enforcing trespassing laws regarding their property in 2010 now say the town hasn’t done any of the things it said it would as part of a 2011 settlement.

The suit was filed by Long Island Soundfront homeowners Jim and Amy Csorny, Michael and Alice Brown, Daniel and Babette Sackowitz, and John Stankaitis, Kelly Eibs and Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis, the latter of whom is a town animal control officer.

They claimed their property extends to the mean high water mark on the beach and that people have trespassed on their property and the town has not taken enforcement action to stop it.

The issue became a battle over beach rights, and the town initially vowed to fight the landowners on the grounds that the land in question was public beach.

The Town Board, in December 2011, voted to settle the lawsuit  in a split vote that was preceded by a lengthy public debate over beach access.

Council members George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio voted against the settlement, but Supervisor Sean Walter and councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy supported it.

Mr. Walter said the town would likely lose if the case proceeded.

The settlement required the town to take some steps to protect the property owners and the judge in charge retained jurisdiction of the case for a year after the settlement to ensure that the terms of the settlement were met. That year expires on Jan. 23.

In a Jan. 7 letter from David Lazer, the attorney for the homeowners, to U.S. District Court judge Joanna Seybert, Mr. Lazer writes, “Pursuant to the settlement agreement, the Town of Riverhead undertook to perform certain obligations to effectuate the terms of that agreement. Among them were the erection of a permanent barrier along the eastern boundary of the town boating access ramp in Wading River, the erection of permanent signage at appropriate locations warning the public that no access by pedestrians or motor vehicles was permitted south of the mean high water lines, and appropriate ticketing and prosecution of persons who trespassed on the plaintiffs’ properties. To date, the town has not done any of these things.”

Mr. Lazer is asking the judge to extend her jurisdiction another six months.

Mr. Walter said the town intends to comply.

“We had our permits and then the hurricane came,” he said Thursday. “We’ll get it done.”

The Town Board discussed the case in executive session Thursday.

“We discussed moving forward with our end of the bargain,” Mr. Wooten said.  “We do have a stipulation of settlement.”

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