Huntington board member says colleague has conflict

Susan A. Berland, a Democrat, is a Huntington Susan A. Berland, a Democrat, is a Huntington Town councilwoman. Photo Credit: James Escher

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Huntington Town Board member Susan Berland, in a heated exchange with board colleague Gene Cook, accused him of having a conflict of interest in some of his town code proposals -- including that four-car garages be allowed on some sites.

Tensions flared at the afternoon town board meeting after Berland brought amended versions of Cook's proposed changes in the town building code to the floor. Her amended versions passed Tuesday evening with Cook supporting one and adamantly opposing the other -- a revision of his garage plan.

"It seems to me there is a clear conflict of interest in bringing this legislation forward," Berland said. Cook disagreed, saying he had already built his garage and doesn't plan to build more.

"This [plan] was to take care of people who said we have problems," he said after the meeting.

He said he worked for months on the resolutions he hoped would clarify the code -- and alleviate anxieties some residents experience in dealing with the building department.

One proposal in his resolutions would have allowed four-vehicle garages on some properties an acre or larger. Berland took issue with Cook, saying he had an open permit to build a three-car detached garage on his property and no certificate of occupancy.

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He said he worked on his proposals with the planning and zoning departments. "I am offended by it [her accusation] because she didn't do her due diligence," he said.

After the meeting, Berland said, "You don't draft legislation that benefits yourself -- you avoid that . . . like the plague."

Berland's first amended resolution, which both she and Cook sponsored, removed a section that would have allowed sheds smaller than 200 square feet in some front yards. That resolution passed unanimously.

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The second amended resolution, which stripped the right to have four garages, didn't pass.

Instead, the board voted 3-2 to approve an amended plan that allows smaller properties of about a third of an acre and less to have two-car garages. Before, properties of that size could have three-car garages, the largest allowed in the town.

Last month, two public hearings were held on Cook's proposed resolutions, where speakers focused on proposed changes to allow residents to install heat, a water supply, insulation and wallboard in detached garages, worrying it could lead to more illegal apartments.

Cook had stripped that language from his proposals.

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