The long-simmering controversy surrounding two homeless sex offender trailers sited in Riverside and Westhampton ignited again on Friday.
The Southampton Town Board expressed outrage after news that the appellate division, second department of the New York State Supreme Court overturned a Suffolk County Supreme Court judge's decision — and dismissed the town's lawsuit against Suffolk County regarding the use and placement of the trailers.
The appellate division, in a unanimous decision, ruled that Southampton Town had only four months from the initial installation of each of the trailers to file the lawsuit.
For years, town residents have rallied to voice their anger at what they say ishousing the majority of the county's sex offenders at the two locations, at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility parking lot in Riverside and a Suffolk County police parcel in Westhampton.
Suffolk County Legislators Jay Schneiderman and Ed Romaine have long worked to resolve the situation and relieve constituents of what they say is an unfair burden.
The decision to dismiss the lawsuit comes only months after County Executive Steve Bellone held a press conference and promised a solution to the situation was on the horizon.
"Just a few months ago, the County Executive himself clearly stated his agreement that the current homeless sex offender trailer housing system is unfair and illogical, yet the court failed to examine the compelling merits of the case, and instead, based its decision on a poorly applied technicality," Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. "My priority is to ensure the trailers are removed from their current locations. The town will continue to litigate as needed, but I sincerely hope the county will bring this relief first — and soon."
Southampton Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera said the bulk of sex offenders are housed in the trailers, no matter where they originally come from. "It is a county-wide problem that our residents should not bear alone. The town is now in the unenviable position that to preserve its rights, litigation must continue. It is unfair, it is unreasonable and it needs to be stopped now,” she said.
According to the Southampton town attorney's office, the goal of the lawsuit was to seek injunctive relief and prohibit violations of its local building and zoning codes by the use and installation of the trailers.
The appellate division, however, ruled that the case must be interpreted as an Article 78, a proceeding used to appeal a court's decision, or, in that instance, to challenge the county's determination to site the trailers — and said, as an Article 78, the minimum statute of four months to file applied. The town's lawsuit hit a roadblock because it was brought two years after the trailers were set up.
The town attorney's office and the Town Board have long said that when the trailers were initially set up, it was with the understanding that the placement was meant to be temporary — and that the location of the trailers would be rotated throughout the county; when the Town Board learned of actions to make the locations more permanent, action was commenced to pursue litigation, Town Board members say, within 24 hours.
“The County Executive came to Southampton in May of this year and pronounced that the county was moving to implement a new plan that included dispersing the population of homeless sex offenders to more fairly distribute the burden," Councilman Chris Nuzzi, a co-sponsor of the town’s resolution to commence litigation against the County in 2009, said. “As no action has been taken with the exception of the trailer being moved a few hundred yards in Westhampton, the town has no choice but to continue to compel the county to finally take the action promised.”
Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said the decision sets a bad precedent "and will only result in increased litigation costs to be shouldered by the taxpayers."
The Town Board, said Councilman Jim Malone, has authorized the town attorney's office to take "whatever steps are necessary to overturn this misguided decision.
Southampton Town residents have been shouldering a disproportionate share of this housing concern for far too long and it's time for the county to honor its promises to share this burden across all ten towns, not just Southampton."
Bellone did not immediately respond to a request for comment.