Village of Muttontown residents frustrated with questions raised about the outgoing administration’s impact on quality of life in the tony community voted June 19 to elect a new mayor and three newcomers to the Board of Trustees that he will head.
The majority of incumbents were unseated in a landslide. The victory came amid allegations of attempted voter suppression by village officials.
Nassau County prosecutors “were alerted that voters were allegedly being denied the opportunity to cast ballots in the Muttontown elections,” says Brendan Brosh, spokesman for Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.
Before the vote, Muttontown homeowners shared stories of costly bureaucratic nightmares they and neighbors faced when trying to build on, repair, or sell their properties.
“We have tried to comply with the building department comment letters, but their requests are ever changing due to their code interpretations,” says Susan Dasilva, whose home has been without a certificate of occupancy (CO) since January 2014. “These changes are costing excessive amounts of money in professional fees and making it next to impossible to complete the final steps to get my CO.”
Another Muttontown resident, who wanted to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal from the village, says it took him more than a year just to get a permit for a generator and he knows residents who have waited even longer for the same thing. He argues that a generator should be treated as an emergency need.
“The permit fee structure is much higher than any other local village,” he says, adding that “a lot of architects don’t want to work in the village” because it’s so hard to get projects approved.
Other Muttontowners who have tried to get building permits for their homes report that it’s taken up to four years. The aggravation has made it harder to sell homes in the otherwise sought-after community. A real estate broker who asked to remain anonymous says it’s especially hard to sell homes there that need a lot of work.
“I had one homeowner who said to me they were given a list of 20 items” that had to be addressed before work could be done on a home and “they got everything cleared up and then there was another 25 items that came back.”
Several builders and investors she knows “won’t even go into Muttontown,” she adds. The issues crescendoed ahead of the election.
Playing a key role in that uproar was the recently formed group Neighbors for a Better Muttontown led by a group of political newcomers seeking change, including Dr. Jim Liguori, who beat village trustee Julie Albernas to become the new mayor and replace outgoing mayor Julianne Beckerman, who opted to not seek reelection. Albernas, Beckerman and the other trustees didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Beckerman and her husband were arrested last year for allegedly failing to pay their income taxes for the past five years. Beckerman and her husband pleaded not guilty to tax fraud and repeated failure to file personal income and earnings taxes.
Running with Liguori to serve as trustees were Chris Economou, Brian Fagen and Dr. Sudha Prasad. Fagen, an attorney and an associate real estate broker with Douglas Elliman, expressed the same frustration as the other homeowners.
Other localities require permits, “but very few municipalities, when you apply for a permit, look for other things that you did that weren’t permitted… They’re actively looking to find violations – whether they occurred while you had title to the property or before,” he says.
Fagen chalks up the excessive red tape to an “inability to find other ways to cut expenses and raise revenue, and the low-hanging fruit is the people that are doing work on their homes and that’s what they grab at.” He vowed to fix the problem so that “Muttontown can be the great place it was.”
Liguori received 1,077 votes compared to only 315 for his rival. Trustee victors Economou, Fagen and Prasad received 1,054; 1,056; and 1,069 votes each, respectively, while their rivals each received under 340 votes.
Liguori told us he was “thrilled that the village overwhelmingly decided to give myself and my trustees an opportunity” to lead the village.
“Goal number one is fixing the building department/permitting process,” he says.