Although their home in the Village of Mamaroneck (VOM) on 615 First St. was intended to be the fulfillment of a dream to raise a family in the suburbs, it soon became a nightmare with no end in sight.
After a yearlong battle with village authorities regarding the issuance and then revocation of a building permit required to make their residence habitable after Tropical Storm Irene, David and Kinuyo Witt—the Mamaroneck family displaced from their home in August 2011—have since relocated and had their home foreclosed on by the bank.
The Witts recently filed a lawsuit against the VOM, the VOM Planning Board and the village’s building inspector Robert Melillo, for what they allege was selective enforcement of building codes.
Problems began for the Witts—along with their 8-month-old baby—when they were unable to live in their home after the first floor sustained heavy flooding damage from Irene. They took refuge in temporary housing for several months and obtained a building permit from Melillo’s office in November 2011, a prerequisite to beginning the $115K repair project to make their home safe again.
Work began uneventfully on Dec. 5, 2011 and was on track to be completed by February.
However, the project—which was halfway completed—was abruptly halted on Jan. 3, 2012 by Melillo, who claimed that the original permit had been issued in error. He said that the Witts would now need to appear before the Village Planning Board in order to obtain a floodplain variance that could potentially grant them an exemption from flood management regulations. The Witts said that they were never informed of this in their prior dealings with the Building Department.
According to the complaint filed in Westchester County Court on Dec. 3, 2012, neighboring properties on North Barry and Forest Avenues as well as James Street were repaired after Irene with no requests from the village to obtain variances, despite the costs of those repairs potentially exceeding 50 percent of the value of the home, and what is considered a “substantial improvement” according to Section 186 of the village’s building code. The entire complaint can be viewed by clicking to the right of the article.
Prior to Section 186’s amendment in September of this year, the code stipulated that if the cost of repair met or exceeded 50 percent of the home’s value, a homeowner would be required to elevate their house, unless they were granted a floodplain variance.
Though the Witts eventually obtained the floodplain variance—albeit a conditional one—they were later told that their battle was nowhere near completion. They would also need to obtain additional variances from the state, a process that could easily set them back another four to six months.
Eventually they abandoned their home altogether.
The complaint goes on to say that the Witts were made, “sacrificial lambs to make it appear to state and federal authorities that the village was finally addressing its past failure to comply with and enforce flood-zone regulations,” referring to a past denial of grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) due to noncompliance with flood zone regulations.
“We are looking at whether or not the burden put on the Witts was the same as that put on other homeowners in the same situation,” Debra Cohen, the Witts’ counsel, told Patch several months ago when the notice of claim was filed.
For now, though, the Witts are attempting to pick up the remaining pieces of their life and abandoning their former vision of raising a family in the suburbs.
“That dream is dead and they are trying to crawl out of the hole they’re in,” said Cohen.
Melillo declined to comment due to the pending lawsuit.