Town Hall Notebook
by Denise Civiletti
Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who has come under blistering attack by a political rival for alleged abuse of position, has just legalized alterations made years ago to her Baiting Hollow home, RiverheadLOCAL has learned. Certificates of occupancy on two of three open building permits on the property were issued June 20, after the councilwoman renewed the long-lapsed permits a month earlier.
One C.O. is for an in-ground swimming pool, deck and hot tub built pursuant to a building permit issued in 1999 to Structural Technology, a Shirley-based corporation owned by Michael Giglio, the councilwoman's husband. The original building permit expired Oct. 15, 2000. It was renewed once, in 2001. The renewal permit expired in 2003. Giglio applied for a new permit on May 14, 2013 and got the C.O. on June 20.
The second C.O. is for a 1,008-square-foot finished basement, converted to living area without a permit some time prior to May 2009, according to building department records. A building permit application was originally submitted by Giglio on March 12, 2009. The permit wasn't issued until May 9, 2013, after Giglio submitted plans and paid a permit fee of $1,163. That amount reflects a double-fee penalty because the alteration was made without a permit.
A third building permit was issued in September 2009 for an already-built, 440-square-foot, second story addition to the Giglio home. That permit expired in Oct. 2010. In a letter to the Giglios dated June 20 of this year, building inspector Richard Podlas said that permit had to be renewed, and the $1,500 permit renewal fee paid, before a C.O. could be issued for the addition. The $1,500 fee reflects a triple-fee penalty for constructing the addition without a permit.
The councilwoman, who also owns a permit expediting business, said yesterday that the open, expired permits on her home didn't mean she was trying to avoid or bend the rules.
"It takes time to process these things," Giglio said in a phone interview. "Things at town hall take time."
Giglio said the pool company was responsible for obtaining the permit for the pool.
The councilwoman blamed an architect for failing to obtain the permit for the addition and said there was a letter from him in the building department's file "explaining that he dropped the ball."
A letter addressed to the building department dated March 11, 2009 from engineer Jerome D'Amaro — whom Giglio confirmed in the phone interview was the "architect" to whom she was referring — says he was hired in 2004 to prepare construction drawings for the second story addition.
"I requested information from Mr. Giglio on April 29, 2004. I put the job back in my files and awaited a response to which I never received," D'Amaro wrote. He said he was next contacted by Giglio on March 10, 2009, asking about the permit. "I reminded him of our previous conversation to where he was to provide me with information needed to finalize the plans and never did," D'Amaro wrote. "I am a reputable designer/engineer and am embarrassed at how this was handled." D'Amaro submitted two sets of plans with the March 2009 letter.
The councilwoman said yesterday the addition in question was a "small addition — I think it's 200 square feet." She said the work was done "around the time my twins were born," and it was a hectic time in her life, she said.
"I absolutely did not get any special favors from anybody in the building department," Giglio said. "That's why it took so long. It was a long process and it was so long because I wouldn't ask for special favors to get my stuff done," Giglio said. "I went through the same process that any taxpayer goes through. I would never put town employees in that position, asking for favors," she said.
"I have too much integrity," Giglio said.
Giglio said she even paid the triple fee penalty despite an amnesty period that would have allowed her to avoid the penalty.
She also said she was unaware of the expired permits until recently.
"When we went to refinance the house we found out we didn't have C.O.s for everything and we filed applications to get them," Giglio said.
"There's a lot of people in town that have expired permits," Giglio said.
Supervisor Sean Walter said he was "stunned" that these issues had persisted and continue to persist.
Walter said he first "heard rumors" of Giglio having no C.O. for her in-ground pool, building addition and finished basement in 2009, when the two were running for office. Giglio first sought the Republican supervisor nomination, but agreed to run for council with Walter as the supervisor candidate in 2009.
"I spoke to Ms. Giglio several times then," Walter said in an interview yesterday. "I also spoke to party leaders. She told me on multiple occasions it was taken care of. After my election, I looked into it and the problems continued. I told her she had to take care of this. If you're going to require the public to follow the code, you have to do the same yourself," the supervisor said. "In fact, as an elected official you should hold yourself to a higher standard than the public."
Anthony Coates, who's challenging Giglio in a primary, and has been hammering her — and the town board in general — on nearly a daily basis on his blog, particularly concerning Giglio's interest in the publicly subsidized Summerwind Square project, said the councilwoman's actions show she believes she's above the law. Coates faults party leadership and the local media "for letting her get away with it and not calling her on it."
"She gets building department fees officially waived on Summerwind, and gets a de facto waiver on fees for work she's done on her own house by not renewing the permits, and the town just lets it go, looks the other way," Coates said.
"Never mind the property taxes she's avoided by not getting the work legalized," he said.
Riverhead board of assessor chairperson Laverne Tennenberg said the assessors don't wait for a C.O. to be issued to change a property tax assessment to reflect the increased value of an alteration. The assessment is re-evaluated after a building permit is issued.
The building department routinely notifies the assessor's office of new building permits, she said.
The assessor's office was not notified of Giglio's building permits for the addition and finished basement until the latest permit applications were filed this May, Tennenberg said in an interview Tuesday. While the assessors had a record of the in-ground pool permit, they never got word of the permits issued in 2009, Tennenberg said.
Giglio's property tax assessment was increased from $74,300 to $77,200 in 2003 to reflect the pool. It has remained at $77,200 since then and has not been increased to reflect the 440-square-foot second-story addition or the finished basement.
"It's the building department's obligation to give them [the permits] to us, not for us to go looking for them," Tennenberg said.
"This is money left in the drawer," Tennenberg said, "if you're not collecting money for permit renewals and you're not collecting higher taxes."
Walter said he doesn't know why Giglio's permits would not have been forwarded to the assessor's office by the building department. "It seems odd," he said.
The supervisor said he issued a directive at a department head meeting in late April that all expired permits and illegal construction should be vigorously prosecuted.
"I was assured up and down by her and by [party] leadership that this was rectified," Walter said.
Giglio insisted yesterday that the expired permit for second-story addition had also been renewed, subsequent to the June 20 letter from the building inspector indicating it was expired and a $1,500 renewal fee was due.
Photo captions: (Top) Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio during a tense moment at a town board work session last year. RiverheadLOCAL photo by Denise Civiletti (Botttom) Town board candidate Anthony Coates, on Peconic Avenue in front of the Summerwind Square building. Photo courtesy of Anthony Coates.