Fires ignite dispute between town, ranch

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A long-running dispute between Oyster Bay and a ranch straddling the town line with Huntington has heated up after officials cited imminent fire danger to seize large mulch piles from the property.

Town Planning and Development Commissioner Fred Ippolito issued the order March 11 after he said firefighters complained of regular smoldering fires within the 30-foot high piles at the ranch off Jericho Turnpike in Woodbury.

In the two weeks following the order, the town sent several highway trucks to carry away the wood chip and mulch piles. It plans to place a lien of roughly $250,000 on the property to recover costs.

Ranch owner John Dougal responded March 21 with a claim in federal court alleging the seizure violated his civil rights and damaged his belongings. His attorney wants a temporary restraining order on the lien.

The 18-acre ranch property, of which only 2 acres are in Oyster Bay, has a history of controversy with both neighbors and municipalities. In late 2008, the town took Dougal to state court on violations of requirements to maintain the property, operating a business in a residential zone and having wood logs and commercial trash bins in a residential zone.

Developer Triangle Equities is trying to turn the site into a gated town-home community for seniors. Kensington Estates won Huntington's approval in January to change zoning from residential to retirement.

The developers must still obtain site plan approval in Huntington and the required zoning changes in Oyster Bay.

If Triangle receives the needed approvals, it would buy the land from the Dougal brothers, a company spokeswoman said.

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