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Judge orders 'designer' mansion closed

Jane Grucci's grand ballroom at the Laurel Hollow

Jane Grucci's grand ballroom at the Laurel Hollow designer showcase on Ridge Road on Aug. 27, 2013. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

A state judge issued a temporary restraining order in a zoning dispute Friday, shutting down an open house showcasing the work of interior designers and landscapers at a Laurel Hollow mansion.

Judge Karen Murphy in State Supreme Court in Mineola ordered a hearing on Sept. 13 for the parties to make their cases for why the open house should or should not be allowed to continue.

Village officials alleged that organizers were engaged in an illegal commercial enterprise that violated its residential zoning code. Organizers said they believed they had complied with village demands.

"You've put me out of business," organizer and designer Claudia Dowling said to village Mayor Daniel DeVita and village attorney Howard Avrutine after the judge issued the order.

DeVita declined to answer a reporter's questions. "These are still ongoing proceedings," he said. "It's improper for a public official to comment."

Dowling's attorney, Kenneth McCallion, said they hope to reach a compromise.

As conceived, the open house was supposed to benefit all involved: publicity for owner Bobby Bakhchi and free renovations by top-notch designers for a house that has been on the market for more than a decade; exposure for designers and potentially new clients; real estate agent Maria Lanzisero would show a more marketable house; and Life's WORC, a nonprofit that provides services for the developmentally disabled, would receive part of the proceeds.

Lanzisero informed the village in an email on April 30 that they planned to hold the open house to showcase the designers. Avrutine confirmed the village received the missive but did not answer questions about how officials responded.

Mayor DeVita was sworn in in July, replacing Harry Anand. Afterward, the village denied a permit for the open house.

The village began ticketing those involved with the show when it opened last week. On Tuesday, village trustees held an emergency meeting to hire a law firm to represent them.

Dowling said she believed Bakhchi and his attorney had worked out arrangements with the village, which is why they hired a limousine to ferry people to the house and were only charging people to cover the cost of the ride.

"He got his whole house done," Dowling said in the courtroom of owner Bakhchi.

Avrutine told Lanzisero that she could show the house to legitimate buyers but that neither the designers nor their business cards could be displayed.

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