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Aug 19, 2009 2:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Price wants village to pay; serves Westhampton Beach with notice of claim

Aug 19, 2009 2:52 PM

A Westhampton Beach attorney, who village officials say has been illegally occupying a small building behind his Library Avenue home, is threatening to sue the village and potentially seeking $10 million in damages.

Peter Price, who lives next to the trailer that is serving as the temporary home of the Westhampton Free Library, filed a notice of claim—the first step in a potential lawsuit—against Westhampton Beach Village on June 10. In his claim, which has been filed only with the village clerk, Mr. Price is accusing Westhampton Beach Village Police, as well as building and code enforcement officials, of harassment, abuse of power, denying him property rights and silencing his free speech.

Mr. Price did not return several calls this week seeking comment about his notice of claim.

Village officials, meanwhile, are challenging the validity of the claim, according to attorney Thomas J. Spellman Jr. of the Devitt, Spellman and Barrett law firm in Smithtown. He is handling the case on behalf of the village.

Westhampton Beach attorney Bo Bishop said Mr. Price twice asked for adjournments for two hearings, one on July 10 and another on August 7. The hearings are held after a notice of claim is filed to weigh the validity of the complaint, Mr. Bishop said.

Should Mr. Price move forward with a lawsuit, Mr. Spellman said he would move to dismiss it because Mr. Price has not yet testified during the scheduled hearings.

Paul Houlihan, the village’s building and zoning administrator, said this week that he has never abused or harassed anyone. He explained that the claim stems from a 27-year-old dispute between the village and the Price family over a 720-square-foot building located toward the rear of Mr. Price’s property that he now uses as a law office. Mr. Price is illegally occupying the building because he does not have a certificate of occupancy from the village, Mr. Houlihan said.

Village officials said they do not know how long Mr. Price has been using the structure as an office.

“We issue violations for things all over the village,” he said. “Our goal is compliance.”

The first violation was filed against Morris and Mira Price, who are believed to be Peter Price’s parents, in March 1982 for failing “to secure a certificate of occupancy on a building,” according to a copy of the violation.

In 1985, an application was submitted by the property owner to the Westhampton Beach Zoning Board of Appeals to list the property at 24 Library Avenue as a multiple dwelling, Mr. Houlihan said. That application was withdrawn later that year for unknown reasons. In 2000, former village building inspector Fred Showers issued another violation for failure to secure a certificate of occupancy.

All of the violations were issued to Morris and Mira Price up until 2004, when the listed owner of the property was changed to Peter Price, according to village officials.

In June 2002, Westhampton Beach code enforcement officer Bridget Napoli received an anonymous call informing her that the building in the back of Mr. Price’s property was being occupied without a certificate of occupancy, according to village officials. She then issued an order to remedy the situation. Apparently, Mr. Price had the required building permits for an accessory building but not a certificate of occupancy to operate it as an office, Mr. Houlihan said.

In May 2008, Mr. Price called building and code enforcement officials to his property, along with Suffolk County Department of Health officials, to complain about hazardous materials at the site where the Westhampton Free Library trailer was being installed. The petroleum contamination at the site, which Mr. Houlihan said could be smelled from Mr. Price’s property, delayed the opening of the trailer for more than a month.

While Ms. Napoli was on the property, she observed that the accessory building was being used as an office, according to Mr. Houlihan. Mr. Price met with village building officials in August 2008 and confirmed that he was using that space without a certificate of occupancy, according to Mr. Houlihan.

Another warning to address the violation was issued in January of this year. Mr. Price again met with code enforcement officials and asked if he could attach the office to his main house, and officials confirmed that that was a possible option, Mr. Houlihan said.

Building and code enforcement officials found that Mr. Price still took no action and issued a $350 summons on February 26. They also asked him to appear in Westhampton Beach Village Justice Court at a later date. Another $350 summons was issued on August 4. It is not clear how much in fines Mr. Price could be facing as the village could potentially charge him up to $350 per day for non-compliance.

“We gave [Mr. Price] ample time and he refused to do anything,” Mr. Houlihan said.

In his claim, Mr. Price accuses the village of “denying property rights rightfully belonging to the claimant,” and “harassment and abuse by the building inspector and code enforcement officer.” His notice also states that “threats and alarm” were “made by the building inspector and code enforcement officer,” and that both abused their power. His claim also alleges that his right “to express free speech and opinion” were denied and also states that members of the Westhampton Beach Police Department abused their power.

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I don't know the specifics of this case but assuming the facts in th earticle are correct this is just another case of some spoiled lawyer thinking he can do anything he wants. Give me a break a 10 million dollar lawsuit against the village because he doesn't have a co. He's had 27 years to conform to the village code. Iwish we had laws in this country that if a lawsuit is brought against someone or some entity and it is deamed frivolous orwith no merit then the one who initiated it must pay all ...more
By rippedoffedtaxpayer (13), speonk on Aug 19, 09 10:31 AM
We Do have such laws. In both State and Federal Court sanctions can be imposed and often are imposed in large sums.
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on Aug 20, 09 3:42 PM