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Aug 10, 2012 3:02 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Developer Threatens Defamation Suit Against Westhampton Beach Village Attorney

Aug 15, 2012 12:39 PM

A Westhampton Beach landowner is threatening legal action against the Westhampton Beach Village attorney based on what he said were defamatory comments made at both public meetings and privately to reporters in July.

According to a letter written by Micky Biss, a part-time village resident and owner of two adjacent Montauk Highway properties within the village, he is demanding a public apology from Richard Haefeli, who currently serves as the village attorney, for public statements in which he said that Mr. Biss does not understand land use laws.

Mr. Biss, who has developed several properties in both Miami and New York, demanded that Mr. Haefli make a verbal public apology at the next Village Board meeting—a work session meeting is scheduled for August 22, a regular meeting is set for September 6—and a retraction in local news outlets, or, he said, legal action is possible.

“These types of remarks and actions are not just totally inappropriate for a village attorney to make about someone who owns a substantial amount of property in Westhampton Beach,” the letter states. “But such statements also constitute defamation, which is actionable.”

The strife stems from a July 26 work session meeting in which Mr. Biss stated he was not legally obligated to follow a site plan already in place for one of his Montauk Highway properties, on which the closed Corner Restaurant now sits at the intersection of Oak Street, before leasing the building to another restaurant. At the meeting, Village Building and Zoning Administrator Paul Houlihan disagreed, and asserted that even though the site plan was issued to the previous property owner, site plans are transferable via the property, not via the owner.

At the meeting, Mr. Haefeli stated that, “Mr. Biss does not know what he is talking about,” and in an issue of The Southampton Press the following week said, “[Mr. Biss] does not know what land use is all about,” leading to the claim of defamation.

When reached on Friday afternoon, Mr. Haefeli said he would not comment on the issue.

At the same time he sent the letter, Mr. Biss also wrote an email to Deputy Mayor Hank Tucker requesting information Mr. Biss said was promised to him at the end of a meeting between Mr. Houlihan, Mr. Biss and Mr. Tucker. In the email, Mr. Biss asks why after three weeks Mr. Tucker has not contacted him with information about the village decision.

“Since you volunteered your opinion to me and to my wife that you thought it was important for the village to have closed buildings re-opened, particularly my building located at the gateway to our village, I am puzzled as to why you have not yet communicated with us regarding your follow-up on the issue,” Mr. Biss wrote.

As of Tuesday morning, Mr. Biss said via email that he has not yet received any response from his letter, which was “overnighted” at the end of last week, or the email, which was sent on Thursday. Along with being sent to Mr. Haefeli, the letter was also sent to Mayor Conrad Teller, and all four village trustees—Mr. Tucker, Patricia DiBenedetto, Ralph Urban and Charlie Palmer.

“While I am disappointed, I am not surprised,” Mr. Biss wrote. “Their lack of response is consistent with their prior inappropriate silence.”

Mayor Teller was out of town this week and unavailable for comment. When reached on Tuesday, Mr. Tucker said that all of the village trustees had been advised not to comment and to defer all questions regarding Mr. Biss to Mr. Houlihan. He declined to comment further.

On Wednesday morning, Mr. Houlihan said that in the past he has exchanged letters with Mr. Biss, and that he believes there is no basis for a defamation suit against the village. He also said that he has tried in the past to assist Mr. Biss by explaining the code, but there is nothing else he can do to help him if he will not listen.

“I have not defamed him,” Mr. Houlihan said. “ I don’t know of anyone who has—I have clear letters to him that outline what he has to do and why he has to do it, and they are based in the code”

Mr. Houlihan said he would welcome Mr. Biss to bring his complaints to the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board if he was not happy with the current site plan.

This week, Mr. Biss said he believed the silence on the part of the village was proof that Mr. Haefeli was wrong about land use laws. Last week, he said that he does not intend to ignore the silence.

“In addition to the village attorney not being responsive regarding the state law he asserted, Trustee Tucker breached his promise to follow up on this matter and communicate with me and my wife,” Mr. Biss wrote. “Everyone can draw their own conclusions or inference. Mine is that the village knows that they are simply dead wrong on the law and, as such, they are hoping that the issue will go away, and that I will not pursue my land use rights. If that is what they are thinking, hereto they are dead wrong.”

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Mr. Biss is correct. Site Plan conditions of approval do not "run with the land" like a recorded covenant would. The conditions only apply to Mr. Biss if he is attempting to use the site plan for his current use. He is free to make a new application for different permits and a different site plan. This is an important disttnction that the village building inspector and the village attorney are glossing over. Very funny that they are inaccurate yet they insult Mr. Biss for lack of knowledge. ...more
By WS (9), Westhampton Beach on Aug 10, 12 4:06 PM
I should preface this with the disclaimer that I have no training or experience in land use matters, and I wonder who here expounding on the issue actually has any relevant credentials.

Suppose that Haefeli is right, as simple logic suggests? If "Site Plan conditions of approval"do NOT run with the land, then when a parcel changes title, any existing Site Plan would lapse, and that doesn't make any sense. What value a Site Plan then?

The way I read this, as a lay person, if the ...more
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Aug 13, 12 9:53 AM
Sue, sue, sue. What a waste of court time and taxpayers money. Biss should thicken his skin a little.
By realistic (472), westhampton on Aug 11, 12 10:05 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By realistic (472), westhampton on Aug 11, 12 10:05 AM
In reference to developing the corner property on Montauk Highway Mr. Biss does not know what he's talking about. Now he can add me to his lawsuit.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Aug 11, 12 10:06 AM
2 members liked this comment
Not following the argument presented by WS: " The conditions only apply to Mr. Biss if he is attempting to use the site plan for his current use"
isn't Biss proposing to keep the current restaurant use on the property, and just changing leaseholders?
By aging hipster (201), Southampton on Aug 11, 12 10:25 AM
I am fairly certain the in WHB (but will double check) that a change of tenant, even if the same use, the zoning code requires site plan approval.

A change in tenants!? That's what I think is going on here. Can someone also verify that.
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Aug 11, 12 3:09 PM
Let's argue about it and leave it the way it looks....between that building and the abandoned gas station across the street, the entrance way to WHB looks brilliant...
By The Real World (368), southampton on Aug 11, 12 1:07 PM
3 members liked this comment
That corner needs a Taco Bell or KFC
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Aug 11, 12 6:21 PM
Why not a Chick-fil-A restaurant?
By Ernie (88), Hampton Bays on Aug 12, 12 12:27 PM
Chick fil A would be problem because they are not open Sunday
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Aug 12, 12 12:33 PM
Mr Haefeli is totally in the wrong for insulting someone as a representive of the village. I think most of these village attys have no idea of what property rights mean anymore. They have basically hindered, and taken away rights of property owners with total disregard for the constitution. Mr Haefeli was giving his opinion of Mr Bliss even though it was inappropiate so I doubt if that will be considered libel of defamation. I think Mr Haefeli should shut his mouth put away his ego and let Mr Bliss ...more
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Aug 12, 12 9:59 PM
Hooters is open 7 days a week..........according to their ads......
By G (342), Southampton on Aug 12, 12 10:21 PM
To chief1-I'm sure the officals in WHB can do without your opinion.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Aug 13, 12 12:00 PM
They are doing fine giving away money to cops and health bebefits to retired politicians. My opinion of help the taxpayer goes to deaf ears in Westhampton
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Aug 13, 12 12:11 PM
Typical: A developer does not get what he wants and he threatens a lawsuit. Pathetic.
By witch hazel (224), tatooine on Aug 13, 12 12:13 PM
I hope he tries to sue and the Judge orders him to pay court costs. that would stop all these frivalous lawsuits. This stufff is pathetic. Bo Ho someone called him a name.
By maxwell (169), speonk on Aug 13, 12 12:59 PM
Is Bo Ho Don Ho's brother? Tiny Bubbles......
By The Real World (368), southampton on Aug 13, 12 3:28 PM