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Huntington Town board member Gene Cook calls for dismissal of housing case

Huntington Town Councilman Gene Cook is shown in

Huntington Town Councilman Gene Cook is shown in this photo from Sept. 30, 2009. Credit: Pablo Corradi

An attorney has asked a court to dismiss Huntington's case against town board member Gene Cook and his partners in a controversial real estate venture, because a key witness has not been produced.

Motions filed in Suffolk County Sixth District Court in Patchogue indicate the town's outside counsel -- Westchester-based Edward Guardaro Jr. -- has said the witness needs more time due to unspecified medical issues.

New York law requires that a person or entity accused of a violation be heard in court within 30 days, allowing for extensions at the court's discretion in exceptional circumstances.

The town filed summonses on April 30 for TGJ LLC -- named for the first initials of Cook and his partners, Huntington real estate agent Tim Cavanaugh and Commack attorney Josh Price -- citing concerns about safety at an East Northport property they own.

Parties first appeared in court June 10 to address questions about work on an external stairway at a house at 792 Larkfield Rd., which the partners purchased last fall. Town officials allege Cook and his partners allowed work on the stairs without a permit or a certificate of occupancy.

Cook and TGJ's Northport-based attorney Ed Yule argued the clock ran out for a speedy trial on Aug. 13 -- 30 days from a July 14 court appearance when he stated his clients were ready for trial.

Guardaro, who the town is paying $200 an hour, argued in court filings that building inspector Lisamarie Walter's health issues are extraordinary enough to stop the clock.

Cook and Yule allege the delays are politically motivated since Cook is up for re-election in November. "The town has been kicking the can down the road," Cook said. "They do that for political purposes. . . . The fact of the matter is that we never violated any laws."

Guardaro did not respond to multiple requests for comment over a period of weeks. His Sept. 15 filing in response to Yule's motion to dismiss will need to be reviewed by the judge, who will schedule a date to address all motions.

Guardaro has filed motions seeking more time until Walter, the key witness, is physically able to testify. He is seeking to seal any testimony or materials related to her condition.

Properties such as 792 Larkfield that pre-exist town zoning code are allowed to be maintained as is -- even if they do not comply with zoning laws. But that protection disappears if a property's structure or use is changed.

The town has a decades-old file on 792 Larkfield that has contradicting information about whether it is a single or multifamily home. Walter's prior inspection reports on the home said it must be returned to single-family and/or go before the Zoning Board of Appeals to resolve its status. The town's legal action so far does not address that issue, instead focusing on the structure's exterior stairs.

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