Town targets Hampton Bays motel operating as shelter

Nick Saridakis in his room at the Hidden

Nick Saridakis in his room at the Hidden Cove Motel in Hampton Bays. Saridakis is one of the last independently paying tenants at the motel, and has been ordered to vacate the property, as the owners convert the property into a homeless shelter. (Jan. 22, 2013) (Credit: Gordon M. Grant)

Southampton officials are ramping up their attacks on a Hampton Bays motel operating as a homeless shelter -- demanding that the motel, Suffolk County and a nonprofit contracted to manage the shelter comply with town code.

A Jan. 3 complaint sent to the county, the owners of Hidden Cove Motel, and Community Housing Innovations Inc. said the shelter violates at least two zoning codes, including requirements for operating a homeless shelter.

The Suffolk County Department of Social Services "went ahead and contracted with the property owner to rent the space as a homeless shelter without in any way notifying the town or speaking with us about it," said Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.

She said town officials learned about the shelter from local schools and others "that suddenly there were these families and kids there and nobody knew who they were."

Department of Social Services officials said the agency has used the hotel for homeless families since October 2011, and could not consult with the town before establishing the shelter because of confidentiality restrictions. They plan to respond to the town, but say they are obligated to house the homeless.

Assistant Town Attorney Carl Benincasa said the shelter operates outside of its approved use as a motel. Town code dictates that guests cannot stay for more than a month at a time, he said.

The parties have 60 days to comply with town zoning laws, he said, adding that the town is "considering various avenues of litigation."Outgoing Suffolk Social Services Commissioner Gregory Blass, who retires today, said, "The town can litigate all it wants. We have to house the homeless."

Blass said the motel's certificate of occupancy does not mention a 30-day-stay limit, and the town had never requested the information Benincasa referenced. Further, the county is "not bound by local zoning codes because the state obligates us under the state's constitution to house the homeless."

Brian Phelps, property manager of Hidden Cove, said owners are "exploring their legal options and the validity of the notice."

The 32-unit motel houses 28 homeless families, said Alexander Roberts, executive director of Community Housing Innovations. Residents are "typically mothers with children, who are in crisis, who were evicted, had an abusive spouse, lost a job," Roberts said. "The primary mission is to find permanent housing as quickly as possible."

Still, Throne-Holst said she is concerned about the shelter's impact on emergency services, local taxpayers and the Hampton Bays school district.

Hampton Bays school officials said there are nine students registered with the shelter's address.

Nicholas Saridakis, 63, a retired car salesman who, until last week, had lived at the motel since May 2011, said the landlord forced out renters in October 2011 by raising the rent "to make way for a deal" with Community Housing Innovations.

The irony, Saridakis said, "We are being evicted by a homeless shelter."

Phelps said Saridakis was evicted after refusing to leave following the expiration of a lease agreement.

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