A Cold Spring Harbor resident has filed an administrative challenge against Huntington officials and the town ethics board over his request to remove the town zoning board of appeals chairman.
The Article 78 challenge follows a failed December request by William Coden to have Christopher Modelewski removed as chairman and asking that the relationships between Modelewski, Huntington attorney John Breslin and RMS Engineering be investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Article 78 filings challenge a governmental decision in court. Coden’s notice of petition was filed Friday in State Supreme Court by his wife, Syosset-based attorney Jennifer L. Coden. It asks that the court either send the ethics board decision back to the board or have the court “substitute” its judgment for the decisions made in the request to remove Modelewski.
“We will cooperate with the proceedings and respond accordingly,” Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said.
The December request to remove Modelewski cited a conflict of interest because Modelewski and Breslin have office space in the same building; that Breslin appears before the town zoning board as an attorney and real estate appraiser; and that Modelewski, Breslin and RMS work together, often representing the same client, before other municipal boards.
The town ethics board in March dismissed the complaint and declined to refer the matter to the justice department. The decision, signed by ethics board counsel Steven G. Leventhal, found that the allegations, “if proved, would not constitute a violation of Article 78 of the New York General Municipal Law, the Town of Huntington Code of Ethics, or common law principles of government ethics derived from judicial decisions.”
Modelewski called the petition “another baseless legal proceeding” and said the Codens “don’t have standing.”
Breslin said the petition was “a complete waste of time and money.” An RMS spokeswoman said the company wouldn’t comment on the filing.
William Coden’s complaints about the zoning board chairman originated from disputes over the Sandbar restaurant on Main Street in Cold Spring Harbor, which Breslin represents. Coden complained about trucks loading, unloading and backing up on the street behind the restaurant. The zoning board is still considering a plan to address the truck traffic issues.
William Coden said after three years of dealing with the zoning board over issues involving trucks on his street, and a review of cases Modelewski, Breslin and RMS Engineering are involved in, he sought the ethics opinion to see why Modelewski is permitted to determine matters presented to him by Breslin and RMS officials.
“Clearly the ethics board didn’t do their job and were just trying to cover up what’s going on with the ZBA,” Coden said, referring to what he called the “chummy” the relationship between Modelewski, Breslin and RMS. “So we had to take it to the next step and have the court take a look.”
The Article 78 petition states that the March decision notes the board met with Modelewski in January, but does not indicate if he was “sworn in, under oath or represented by counsel.” Nor does the board’s decision indicate whether documents or information were requested of Modelewski or that any inquiry was made to verify Modelewski’s statements or if any inquiry was made of Breslin or RMS.