Smithtown building code fines may rise

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Heeding a Suffolk grand jury that recommended stiffer fines for illegal demolitions, Smithtown officials are weighing tougher penalties for developers who violate the town building code.

Property owners and contractors would face maximum fines of $5,000 -- 10 times higher than the current $500 fine -- for unlawful demolitions and other violations of the code under rules the town board is considering. Developers who ignore stop-work orders would face minimum fines of $1,000, up from the current $750.

Maximum fines would be $10,000 for second violations of the code or cease-and-desist orders, and $15,000 for subsequent violations. The current code does not specify maximum fines for second and third offenses.

Town Attorney John Zollo said during a public hearing on the proposal on Tuesday that fines for building code infractions should be large enough that developers do not dismiss them as "just the cost of doing business."

"We're trying to put more teeth in our punishment," he said. "Hopefully, this will be something that will make someone think twice before violating the code."

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Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said he expects the town board to approve the increased fines. The board has not scheduled a vote on the proposal.

Zollo said the proposed changes grew out of recommendations by a grand jury that had reviewed a 2009 incident in which a developer illegally demolished structures on his property. The panel, in a report released in February by the Suffolk district attorney's office, found no wrongdoing by town officials.

The grand jury concluded that town officials had persuaded the developer to raze the buildings in order to reduce taxes on the parcel. While the grand jury did not identify any of those involved, town officials said the property was a lumber yard on Main Street in Smithtown owned by Salvatore DiCarlo of East Hampton.

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Smithtown lowered taxes on the lumber yard by $4,000 after six structures were leveled without the owner having secured a town permit. The grand jury report said the developer paid $3,500 in town fines for the illegal demolition. The yard is now closed.

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