Laurel Hollow asks court to halt designer open house

The Village of Laurel Hollow wants to shut down designer Claudia Dowling's open house showcase. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Sept. 5, 2013)

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The Village of Laurel Hollow is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop an open house that showcases the work of interior decorators, according to legal papers served on the organizer Thursday.

Meanwhile, the organizer's attorney is seeking an injunction to stop the village and allow the continuation of the open house, which the village alleges violates zoning code. The parties are slated to appear Friday in state Supreme Court in Mineola, where a judge could decide whether the circa-1930s Georgian-style mansion, known as Cedar Knolls, can be shown to the public or even potential buyers.

"I'm disheartened," said Claudia Dowling, who organized the showcase and is named in the village's legal action. "We have done so much work. I'm afraid these designers won't be able to show their work properly."

The village also named the house's owner, Bobby Bakhchi, and the real estate agent trying to sell the home, Maria Lanzisero.

Lanzisero said they notified the mayor in April before beginning work and received a verbal OK. Dowling said the village's legal maneuvers, which include issuing stop-work orders and zoning code violations to her, the real estate agent and a limousine company that has ferried visitors to the house, surprised her.

"I'm a designer; I've never had to deal with this."

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Laurel Hollow Mayor Daniel DeVita did not returns calls seeking comment but instead directed village clerk Karen Navin to respond on his behalf.

"He believes it's improper for a public official to comment to the press on pending legal proceedings and it's unfair to both the village and the defendant," Navin said.

The village alleges that Dowling and the others are engaged in a commercial activity that is not permitted under its zoning code. Dowling said they were turned down in July for a special permit, but she believed she was doing everything the village had asked for by not collecting money for the show -- though they do charge for the limo ride. The limo was hired to avoid the open house causing traffic, she said.

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At stake is an investment by 24 designers and two landscapers who have sunk roughly $250,000 into designing the interior and exterior of the house, which is for sale at an asking price of $2.5 million.

Dowling said the designers are afraid to come to the home out of fear the village will ticket them as well.After a limousine showed up, village code enforcer Thomas Haley gave tickets to the driver and then to Dowling. Haley said that Dowling had been denied an application to carry on the open house and would be ticketed for "anything pertaining to what her application was to run business at this house."

Ellen Follett, who owns Always Instyle Limos in Massapequa that was hired to ferry visitors, said she had no idea this would happen.

"All we did was innocently contract with Claudia and her design studio to be a part of something we thought was nice," she said. "I thought it was a really classy thing she's doing."

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