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Town Wants To Seize WWII Veteran’s Store … To Build A Store

Veteran's store could be seized by town. Eminent domainA village government on Long Island is using damage caused by Hurricane Sandy as a pretext for a flagrant assault on private property rights.

The Whitney family is alleging that the Village of Saltaire, New York, has prevented them from rebuilding their grocery store and is now trying to use eminent domain to seize their property. The village allegedly wants to build its own market on the site.

Village officials have refused to approve the permits necessary to rebuild the 25-year-old grocery store, owner Frank Whitney and his sons allege. Now the same officials are trying to use eminent domain to seize the property.

“I think they want to control the property,” Frank Whitney, a World War II veteran, said of the reason officials want to seize the property. Whitney and his sons, Scott and Chip, went on the Fox & Friends show and accused officials of manipulating the building permit approval process to prevent them from rebuilding their store. If the Whitneys cannot get those permits, the village may be able to condemn the store and seize it through eminent domain.

The officials want to control the property to prevent the Whitneys from selling it to somebody who would use the location for something other than a grocery store, Scott Whitney alleged. The store is the only place that sells groceries on Fire Island on the Long Island Shore and the only commercial property in Saltaire.

According to the New York Post, the property had a deli, a liquor store and an ice cream shop.

Village Prevents Family from Rebuilding Grocery Store

The village is alleging that the damage to the property by Sandy was significant and that the Whitneys must go through significant expensive paperwork to rebuild. The Whitneys, though, say the damage was not substantial.

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“The only building that has been turned down is ours,” Scott Whitney said. “Why is it that everybody else in the village and in fact every building on Fire Island was aided in repairs but we have to turn in tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of documents.”

The village asked the Whitneys to submit architectural and engineering plans to get their store rebuilt. Scott alleges that everybody else in the village had only to turn in a one page document. He also alleged that village officials had exaggerated the amount of damage done to the store in order to justify their actions.

Village officials contend that permits and architectural plans are needed because more than 50 percent of the grocery store was destroyed by flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The Whitneys claim that less than 50 percent of the building was destroyed and the permits are not needed. Scott Whitney said that a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) supports their contentions. Four engineering reports support the Whitneys, The Post said.

Taxpayers Would Foot The Bill

Other buildings that were much more heavily damaged by flooding caused by Sandy, including a private yacht club in Saltaire, have been approved for rebuilding, Scott Whitney said. He noted that the other property owners only had to fill out a one-page document to get approval.

The village of Saltaire has applied for a $1.5 million grant from the state of New York, The Post reported. The grant would presumably be used to acquire the Whitneys’ store and reopen it. The village applied for the grant three weeks before its board of trustees voted to use eminent domain to seize the grocery store. The grant request has since been turned down, according to The Post.

Now that the grant has been turned down, the village might raise taxes or sell public property to get enough money to fund the seizure, Mayor Robert Cox III told The Post.  Frank Whitney and his sons are challenging the village’s actions in court.

“There is almost nobody I have spoken to in the town that supports this eminent-domain action,” bestselling author and Saltaire resident David Fisher told The Post. Actress Kathleen Butler, who owns a summer home in Saltaire, described the village’s actions as “disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful.”

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