A federal lawsuit filed against the Town of Huntington, town board member Gene Cook and his two real estate partners over alleged zoning violations at an East Northport house seeks $5 million in damages.
The lawsuit alleges that town officials have intentionally ignored code violations at the multifamily home on Larkfield Road — but only after it was purchased by TGJ LLC, a company owned by Cook, Huntington real estate agent Tim Cavanagh and former co-owner, Commack attorney Josh Price.
Mary Ann Dellinger, of Huntington and Carmen Tomeo, of Strasburg, Pennsylvania, who sold the property to TGJ, said in the lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court Eastern District in Central Islip, that actions by town officials, and Cook and his partners caused Dellinger and Tomeo, who are brother and sister, to lose money on the sale of their former home.
They also allege that Huntington officials selectively and unfairly targeted them for zoning enforcement, then allowed the property to remain unchanged and free of violations once TGJ purchased it in the fall of 2014 for $400,000.
“Huntington has permitted and tolerated a pattern and practice of unjustified, unreasonable and illegal use of the enforcement of the town code against the plaintiffs” [Dellinger and Tomeo], according to the lawsuit.
Town officials declined to comment. Cook did not respond to requests for an interview. Cavanagh did not immediately comment, and Price declined to speak, other than to say he hasn’t been an owner of the company or property for more than a year.
The dispute revolves around the property’s status as a multifamily home.
While Dellinger and Tomeo still owned the house, the town cited multiple violations against the property for alleged overcrowding and illegal apartments, said Christopher Cassar, a Huntington attorney representing the siblings.
Dellinger and Tomeo have long contended that the house, which was built before Huntington established a zoning code, is grandfathered in with multifamily status — which makes the house a more valuable rental property than a single-family home, Cassar said.
Huntington Town code inspectors told Dellinger and Tomeo on at least four occasions between 2012 and 2013 that the house must be restored as a single-family dwelling or go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for approval as a multifamily home, according to building department documents.
The conflict over the property’s status, including related code violations, scared away prospective buyers and depreciated the value and profitability of the house, according to the lawsuit.
The suit also claims an unidentified Huntington Town official notified one prospective buyer in 2013 “that the property was unsafe and should be demolished,” and that another told the buyer that “the town would not allow the building to be used for ‘any purposes’ and cautioned him to ‘think twice’ before pursuing the sale.”
Cassar said those actions had a direct effect on the property’s value and prospects for selling, and that the same problems had not been cited for the new owner, TGJ.
The town did issue court summonses for code violations against TGJ over the property’s conformity with zoning codes, but the case was dismissed in late 2016.
Cassar said the outcome of that case does not preclude Huntington officials from enforcing town code on the property in the same way they did with the previous owners.