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Duryea's owner says E. Hampton supervisor told him to sue town in dispute over property

Duryea's Lobster Deck in Montauk is the subject

Duryea's Lobster Deck in Montauk is the subject of a dispute over property use between its owner, Marc Rowan, and East Hampton Town officials. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc of East Hampton Town has denied a claim by the owner of Duryea's Lobster Deck in Montauk that the supervisor invited him to  sue the town to give the town board the “political cover” needed to reach a settlement in a dispute over property use, according to a new legal filing in the case.

Marc Rowan, co-founder of  equity firm Apollo Global Management, bought the property for $6.3 million in 2014 and reached a settlement with the town that, among its stipulations, would allow what was traditionally a seafood and takeout counter to offer waitstaff service. The Duryea family had tried to operate a restaurant on the site,  but the town Zoning Board of Appeals decided in 1997 it could not.

Rowan, in a sworn statement filed May 2 in one of three pending lawsuits against the town, said he met with Van Scoyoc and Councilman David Lys in February 2018 to discuss the issues. It states Van Scoyoc recommended seeking the approvals through the courts, where the town board could negotiate a settlement, rather than through the town’s regulatory boards.

“At that meeting, Van Scoyoc stated to me that he wanted to globally resolve the issues relating to the premises, but that the Town Board did not feel that it could negotiate a resolution without judicial assistance because of town politics and public pressure,” Rowan said in the affidavit. “Mr. Van Scoyoc accordingly asked Petitioner to file suit to provide the Town Board with political cover.”

Rowan then filed three petitions against the town in March 2018, requesting that it grant a certificate of occupancy, change one of the property’s zoning designations and agree that it did not have jurisdiction over a dock on the property.

In an emailed statement, Van Scoyoc denied Rowan’s account, calling it a “mischaracterization” of their conversation.

“I informed the property owner he could go through the standard town review process to seek necessary approvals,” Van Scoyoc said. “In response to his claim that patents supersede the town’s jurisdiction regarding the docks, I indicated the Town’s position is that it maintains jurisdiction to regulate those areas and, if he wanted to challenge that, he must do so through the courts.”

Lys could not be reached for comment.

The town took no legal action in the case until former East Hampton Town attorney Michael Sendlenski signed the settlement in January. The agreement was met with criticism from town residents and at least one town board member who said it was a bad deal for the town.

“I don’t think we fought hard enough for the town of East Hampton, and I don’t think we fought hard enough for Montauk,” Councilman Jeff Bragman said during a Feb. 21 town board meeting.

Bragman’s remarks prompted heated comments from Sendlenski, who defended his handling of the case. Sendlenski, who resigned earlier this month to work in the private sector, declined to comment.

Van Scoyoc also initially defended the settlement, telling Bragman during the meeting that “four out of five of us worked really hard on this.”

The town board, which had not authorized the supervisor to sign the stipulation of settlement in the Duryea case, voted 5-0 in March to hire Carle Place law firm Sokoloff and Stern LLP, with a $20,000 contract, to represent the town on the matter. The contract was increased later to $100,000.

In April, a state Supreme Court judge issued a stay to East Hampton Town that suspended implementation of the settlement, a decision that Van Scoyoc touted in an April news release as a good move for the town.

“The stay will allow the parties to continue negotiations in order to achieve a settlement that takes into account both the rights of the property owner and the concerns of the town,” Van Scoyoc said.

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