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Standoff over Laurel Hollow designer show house

Jane Grucci's grand ballroom at the Laurel Hollow

Jane Grucci's grand ballroom at the Laurel Hollow designer showcase on Ridge Road on Aug. 27, 2013. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

If you decide to attend the Designers’ Open House at Cedar Knolls in Laurel Hollow Thursday, you might see law enforcement officers at the entrance.

That’s because the organizers of the Ridge Road show house -- where local designers decorated the inside and outside of the circa-1930 Georgian-style mansion -- are locked in a battle with the village about whether the event can go on.

Village attorney Howard Avrutine says that summonses and stop work orders were issued on the opening Labor Day weekend against those running the show house because the zoning board denied an application for a variance back in July.

“The operation of this event at the premises constitutes the operation of a business, which is not permitted in the village. That’s the crux of it,” says Avrutine, explaining that the designers, in showing their work, are trying to sell their services.

The only exception in the village is for the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which has special zoning for educational and institutional uses, he says.

Claudia Dowling, show house producer, says she attended the July hearing but says she believed it was “just a formality.” She says she knew members voted “no” but that she didn’t understand what that meant. “They even said there’s no permit for this kind of thing -- you can’t get a permit like this,” she says.

She says she did not know until Tuesday night that the owners had applied for a variance. “I can’t plead stupidity because it’s a not defense,” she says.

She says the event is an “open house” since the property is on the market, listed for $2.495 million. She adds that the $20 to $25 fee covers limo rides to the house from a Cold Spring Harbor restaurant, where the money is being collected.

She says she plans to reopen Thursday at 10:30 a.m., the regularly scheduled time, and that her attorney, Kenneth McCallion, who could not be reached for comment, is seeking legal relief in state Supreme Court.

The owners of the property also could not be reached.

Maria Lanzisero of Signature Premier Properties, their real estate listing agent, says she is disappointed because the historic house, which has been on and off the market for about a decade, is finally getting the attention it deserves. An estimated $250,000 in improvements were made at the property, including a kitchen makeover and landscaping in the front. “I feel that this is helping to increase the value of the home, and that we’ve been more than respectful,” she says.

Two police officers and a code enforcement official came to the show house Saturday, the opening day, and blocked the driveway, turning visitors away, says Dowling, a Huntington interior decorator. “I felt like I was a criminal,” she says.

She says she reopened that day -- receiving more code violations throughout the weekend -- to stand up for herself and the designers.

Avrutine says that a village code enforcement officer is expected to return Thursday morning. He could not say whether police officers would be there, but that the village will not “physically stop someone” from entering, he says, and that it is not likely summonses will be issued against visitors who might come to see the house. "That’s not something we're planning to do," he says.

Update: The show house reopened Thursday morning, when the organizers, real estate agent and the owner received notice that the village will be presenting an order to show cause at the state Supreme Court in Mineola Friday as well as a request for a temporary restraining order, reports Newsday's Ted Phillips.


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