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Fence project at East Williston school on hold as village, school district officials spar over permit

Work stopped on Aug. 26 after a judge

Work stopped on Aug. 26 after a judge overseeing the case placed a temporary injunction on the fence installation at North Side Elementary School in East Williston. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Construction of a 6-foot-tall fence at North Side Elementary School in East Williston, planned in part to keep unauthorized adults off school grounds, has stalled because officials from the village and the school district are in a legal dispute over a permit.

At issue is whether the school district must obtain a village building permit before erecting the fence, which the lawsuit states would exceed by 2 feet the height limit allowed under village code. John Sheahan, an attorney representing the East Williston School District, said a permit from the state Education Department is enough. However, village officials indicated last month that their permit is also necessary. 

East Williston Mayor Bonnie Parente did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment, but village officials briefly outlined their stance in an Aug. 23 letter to residents.

"The village board, through its legal counsel, sent a letter to the EWSD months ago asking that they file an application for a permit and comply with the village zoning requirements," the village said. "Rather than doing so, the EWSD initiated legal action to require the withdrawal of the village’s letter."

The district has installed a new roof, renovated the playground and added a new wing for first-graders at North Side in previous years without needing the village's building permit, Sheahan said. Applying for the village permit would mean the fence project has two permits, Sheahan said. 

"There has never been a school district in the state of New York that has had to file two building permits," Sheahan said.

The district received a state Education Department permit on April 11 and began construction Aug. 8, said Diane Castonguay, the district's assistant superintendent for business. A judge overseeing the case placed a temporary injunction on the fence and work stopped on Aug. 26. 

North Side takes up an entire block and is bordered by Wheatley and East Williston avenues, which have heavy vehicle traffic, and Downing Street and Andrews Road, which are residential streets. The school uses a grassy field at the corner of Andrews and Downing as part of its playground for recess. The fencing will not limit public access to the field.

In December, district officials said North Side would have a fence featuring a 3-foot retaining wall at the front of the building and a 6-foot-tall, black cast aluminum fence at the remaining three sides. School officials said a fence would keep children from inadvertently running into the street and deter unauthorized adults from coming on school grounds. 

Village trustees are not taking a side on whether the school needs a fence, the letter states. The village instead wants to ensure zoning code laws are upheld, according to the letter.  

Both sides are due back in state Supreme Court in Mineola on Sept. 25.

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