Town Approaches Legal Crossroads

Hamptons Editorial

The Town Board of East Hampton is quickly approaching a legal, and financial, crossroads when it comes to its dispute with Duryea’s and its owner, Marc Rowan. While the judge in the case, New York State Justice James Reilly, could side with the town and strike down the settlement signed off on by then Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski in January, a July 15 decision by Reilly indicates otherwise.

Reilly found in his July 15 decision that precedent holds that a town board, even without ever taking a vote on the matter, could show its approval of a court settlement.

If Reilly upholds the settlement, or if he simply does nothing but encourage more discovery on the matter, where does the town turn next?

Rowan shows no sign of going away. Indeed, he is lining up lawyers to assist on the case the way kids used to collect baseball cards. One of those lawyers, Gayle Pollack, recently accused the town of “trying to shut down Duryea’s” and was adamant that her team would not negotiate on any terms other than those in the January settlement. The timing of her letter to the East Hampton Town Planning Board was prescient: Reilly signed off on his decision five days later.

Rowan has billions and is willing to spend, apparently, whatever it takes to get what he believes is the proper use of the property. The town does not have billions, so the question becomes: Does the town know what it believes is right, and why?

Sitting mostly on the sidelines during all of this is the Tuthill Road Association, neighbors opposed to the settlement. They have been allowed by Reilly to join only one of the four Article 78 lawsuits Rowan currently has against the town as a nominal respondent, that one being his suit against the East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals possibly reversing the certificate of occupancy issued to Duryea’s as part of the January settlement.

The town board has already committed to spending up to $270,000 in legal fees, as of June 20. That price tag will go up if the town appeals future decisions by the judge.

Which way should the town turn if the settlement decision goes against it? Or, if Reilly simply kicks the legal can containing the decision farther down the road? There are no easy answers, but we have to assume that, during the many recent town board executive sessions, a plan for those eventualities was put in place, and that the taxpayers of the Town of East Hampton will be told promptly which legal road the town is taking, and why.

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