Manorhaven Trustees meeting erupts over BZA appointment, property dispute

Manorhaven Trustees meeting erupts over BZA appointment, property dispute
Manorhaven's Village Hall. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

A dispute erupted during the Manorhaven Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday between Trustee Jeff Stone, other board members and members of the public after Stone expressed concern about a recently appointed Board of Zoning Appeals chair and a contested property proposed in the village.

Inflammatory remarks were made and names were called during the contentious meeting  between board members and members of the public. Multiple times during the meeting both the mayor and the village attorney had to bang on their tables and demand that the room be quiet due to an overwhelming number of individuals talking over one another and speaking at high volumes.

The beginning of the dispute started when Stone apologized for a statement he made at the board’s last work session meeting on Oct. 4 about the village’s complaint investigator.

He said he had disagreed with another trustee during the work session about his election campaign mailing, mentioning that the complaint investigator, Lori Vlahos, had issued violations to his opponent, former Trustee Vincent Costa. He apologized for using Vlahos’ name and corrected himself that only one violation had been issued.

Stone clarified that he had not communicated with Vlahos prior to being elected in June and did not receive documentation to help his campaign.

“Since being elected to the position of trustee, I have come to know Lori Vlahos, complaint investigator, as diligent, competent and all-around good person,” Stone said. “My statement was ultimately misconstrued and taken out of context to cause potential disharmony in conducting official business in Manorhaven Village.”

Trustee Khristine Shahipour said that since Stone apologized to Vlahos, he should also apologize to Costa as she said he was spreading lies about him. Stone refused and comments were exchanged between the two trustees.

Deputy Mayor Harry Farina said Stone ran to serve on the board to promote unity, yet did not act accordingly when his candidate was not appointed as chair to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

At the September Board of Trustees meeting, Stone questioned the process of appointing new board member Neil Jester as the Board of Zoning Appeals chairman. He asked why the temporary chairperson Jerry Volpe was not appointed.

Farina said Stone did not discuss the matters with the board. Stone said he discussed it with the mayor.

“The board is just as important as the mayor,” Farina said.

Stone said he found the process of appointing the chairman “unacceptable,” claiming that the Board of Trustees did not allow the Board of Zoning Appeals to choose their chairperson. Farina refuted this statement and said the process was done according to procedures and the BZA did appoint its chairperson.

Farina said he talked to the BZA and was told that Volpe would be appointed as a temporary chair. Stone said in that discussion it was established that Volpe would then be on the agenda to be voted on for the board’s chairperson, but Farina said that was never brought up.

Farina told Blank Slate that Volpe was assigned as temporary interim chair after the former chairman was not renewed for the position. This was in order for the BZA to be able to have a chairperson during meetings.

Farina asserted that Volpe’s appointment was not permanent and rather installed on a month-to-month basis until the seat could be filled by the BZA’s appointment.

He said the BZA established that Jester would be the board’s chairperson, resulting in Volpe walking out of the meeting and saying he was done. Volpe later resigned from the board.

Farina said Stone had been misinformed about the situation which fueled the dispute between him and the board about the appointment of the BZA chairperson.

Ed Mayourian, the owner of 59 Orchard Beach Blvd. in Manorhaven, asked why Stone is concerned about the BZA. Farina said it was because he wanted to appoint a specific person who did not get appointed, and Stone said because the Board of Trustees oversees them to ensure they do the “right job.”

“We don’t control the BZA and they don’t control us,” Farina told Blank Slate. “We do assign the members, we do assign the chair, but like I said, they’re a separate entity from the village.”

The village’s attorney, Kenneth Gray, clarified that the Board of Trustees does not oversee the Board of Zoning Appeals as it is a quasi-judicial body. He said the mayor makes appointments and the trustees ratify the appointments to the members.

Stone asked who was liable if the Board of Zoning Appeals makes an incorrect decision and a suit is brought forward, asking specifically about the contested 59 Orchard Beach Blvd. project.  He was concerned about potential lawsuits brought against the village and the legality of its procedures.

The project, which requested multiple variances, has raised many questions for residents. One resident previously said at the September meeting that the owners should have been fined for ”its many violations of building and flood toll regulations.” Others said the final site plan did not match the original plans.

Gray previously said that a stipulation and settlement executed by the former village attorney and the owners of the LLC of the property that lifted the stop work order and allowed construction to proceed based on the interpretation of the code was in effect when they filed their building permits.

Board members said that the property is being handled correctly and that all processes have been conducted legally.

“They did everything they’re supposed to do,” Farina told Blank Slate about 59 Orchard Beach Blvd.

Board members criticized Stone, saying that he never attended a meeting concerning the property prior to taking office.

Mayor John Popeleski asked the owners of the property to address the questioning during the meeting and “put this to bed once and for all.”

Mayourian said that the property has been cleared by an engineer. Stone asked if it was the village’s engineer, but Mayourian said it was not and that any engineer would suffice under the law.

“You keep bringing up, garbling things that are not truthful,” Mayourian said to Stone.

An agreement was made between the village and the property owners on Nov. 28, 2022 that led to the property owners spending an additional $500,000. The property owner’s attorney, Anthony J. Piacentini, said that if Stone does something to jeopardize the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, there will be a lawsuit against the village that will name Stone as one of the defendants.

“You sit here and you think you can just wave your hand and just disregard an agreement that was made binding on the village,” Piacentini said. “…You have no right to question what the BZA does.”

Piacentini told Stone that if he feels responsible for overseeing the legality of the property as a trustee, then he should resign. Stone told him to sit down.

Stone said that he, too, wants to put the property issue at rest and move it forward to completion, so long as it is done legally.

Shahipour, Popeleski and Trustee Monica Ildefonso said during the meeting’s argument that Stone has an agenda, with Shahipour and Popeleski saying that he is being told what to say by an outside individual.

“Who is putting you up to this?” Shahipour questioned.

Stone denied having an agenda.

When asked if he has plans to run for mayor, Stone refused to answer the question.

The Manorhaven Board of Trustees will convene again at 6 p.m. on Wednesday for its monthly work session.

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