Interior designer Claudia Dowling fined for illegal showcase house
The village court of Laurel Hollow has fined interior designer Claudia Dowling and her company $10,500 for code violations related to a show house she arranged at a Gold Coast mansion last year.
In an 11-page decision, Judge Joseph D'Elia wrote that Dowling "entered into contracts which made her responsible for virtually everything" and that she "tore down stop-work orders and continued the show house, knowingly in violation of the respective ordinances."
The judge found Dowling and the Huntington-based company that bears her name guilty of five counts each of violating zoning ordinances and four counts each of violating stop-work orders. Dowling, who faced more than a year in jail, plans to appeal, her Huntington Station-based attorney Mona Conway said.
"I am shocked that I have been singled out for this harsh treatment," Dowling said in an email. "This was an innocent endeavor on all our parts and we only hoped for a beautiful restoration product and enjoyment for our Long Island community."
Village officials said it was an illegal commercial enterprise, and a state judge shut it down after five days.
Conway, who received the decision this week, had argued at trial that the stop-work orders applied to construction rather than the event. D'Elia disagreed. "Had the defense counsel bothered to read the village ordinances she would have realized that her arguments . . . failed on multiple grounds," he wrote.
D'Elia also criticized Conway for not calling village court clerk Nancy Popper to testify after the defense had alleged that Popper, who is also the village's deputy clerk, had told an organizer they did not need a permit for the event.
Conway said D'Elia's ruling was a "terrible decision" that singled out her client.
The owner of the mansion, Bobby Bakhchi, was not charged. Realtor Maria Lanzisero and two limousine drivers involved in the event pleaded down to parking ticket violations. Bakhchi filed for a zoning variance and was turned down before the event began. Dowling said she didn't fully understand what transpired between Bakhchi and the village, an argument the judge did not find convincing.
Dowling and several other designers have since sued Bakhchi in civil court.