Filippi brothers dispute notice of violation

During Zoning Board hearing
Thu, 08/01/2019 - 6:45pm

Business owner Blake Filippi spent the better part of two hours grilling New Shoreham Building Official Marc Tillson during the Zoning Board’s meeting on July 24 about a notice of violation that he and his brother, Paul, received for erecting a parking lot on property near the harbormaster’s shack in Old Harbor. The brothers, who purchased the property under T&C Holdings from their mother, Marion, a year ago, created two makeshift parking areas on the property on Memorial Day. The parking lots have been in operation since that time.

At the conclusion of the Zoning Board’s meeting, Chair Elizabeth Connor agreed to write the decision for the appeal, and will render it at the Board’s next meeting. Connor and board member Susan Bush discussed the fact that the Filippi brothers did not acquire a special use permit for the use, which is a zoning requirement.

During the hearing, Blake Filippi, an attorney, argued that although they didn’t possess a special use permit, there is a pre-existing use of the property that allows for parking in what is known as the disputed triangle area, Plat 6, Lot 158. The town, through Tillson, is saying the parking lot was created on a public right of way. There is a longstanding debate over who has the rights and ownership over the property, which led members of the Zoning Board to label the property a veritable “can of worms.”

Tillson said he investigated the area on May 22 per instructions from Town Manager Ed Roberge, who was in attendance at the hearing.

Roberge has often stated his desire to clean up the Old Harbor parking area.

After investigating the property, Tillson issued the notice of violation to the Filippi brothers on June 6, 2019.

The violation states that the parking lot, located on Water Street in a public right of way, violates the zoning ordinance, and requires a special use permit.

“It’s my position; I understand it’s a disputed area, but my understanding is that it is Water Street,” noted Tillson. “And until the situation is decided by the court it is still Water Street. It is shown on the town’s plat maps as Water Street.” Tillson said he investigated because the Filippis “had blocked Water Street” with their parking area.

The disputed triangle area consists of two parcels within close proximity to Water Street and Old Harbor’s inner basin: parcel A and parcel B. Parcel B contains the parking lot that garnered the violation.

A consent order rendered by Washington County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Lanphear in May of 2004 states that parcel A is private, taxable property owned by Blake and Paul Filippi, while abutting parcel B is to be treated as the property of the town. 

Blake Filippi submitted exhibits at the hearing containing old photographs, some by photographer/historian, Robert Downie, of cars parked on the property.

He said the photographs establish preexisting non-conforming use, and go towards building a record for his testimony. His argument is: if parking was permitted on the property in the past, why isn’t it now? 

“There’s been parking there since 1897,” he said.

Connor reminded Blake Filippi that his testimony, and cross examination of Tillson, should be focused solely on information related to the notice of violation, including the lack of a special use permit.

“We’re looking at whether you had a special use permit, or not,” she said. “That’s all we’re doing.”

“To clarify, the issue is: is there a special use permit application for parking, and is there a signage application with the Historic District Commission” for a $5 per hour and $20 per day sign on the property, asked Connor. “You have testified that there is neither. And your argument is it’s a prior pre-existing non-conforming use. Do you have any other argument that is not related to the pre-existing use?”

In response, Blake Filippi said he didn’t.

“It makes me question what we’re doing here,” he said. “I think Mr. Tillson is wasting everyone’s time.”

Connor said the hearing is “the next step in the process of trying to find some resolution. Who owns the property doesn’t matter. The question is: can it be used as a parking lot without a special use permit?” She said the Filippis “are saying they don’t need a special use permit because there has always been parking on the property.”

William Landry, Land Use attorney for the Zoning Board, echoed Connor’s sentiments.

“This is not the time or the place to determine” rights or ownership of the property. “So we shouldn’t go there. It’s not necessary to this proceeding whether that determination was made or not. The real issue becomes whether there was a zoning violation or not.”

“I don’t think the Filippis are disputing that the town has a public right of way” on the property, said Landry.

“We do” dispute it, said Blake Filippi.

“We’re giving the applicant a lot of leeway at this hearing,” said Landry, who noted that Blake Filippi’s building of the record was not pertinent, and his tangential arguments “were irrelevant.”

“We have a right to build a record,” said Blake, insisting that he wanted his testimony on the public record.

He noted several offers of proof, which are explanations as to why something denoted as immaterial or irrelevant is evidence of value on the record. 

Resident Kim Gaffett asked why the Filippi brothers had “the right to build a record on something that was not pertinent” to the violation.

“As the chair I will answer this,” said Connor, noting that she wants people to be able “to say their piece. For the most part I have always erred on the side of people having their say — to a certain point.”

The Zoning Board will be rendering its decision, which will be written by Connor, at its Aug. 24 meeting.