Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rosko Place

To write about this subdivision is a bit of a departure for me, but with all of the miscellaneous bits of information (and accusations) flying around out there I couldn’t help but dive into it on my own. I am not an investigative journalist, or a lawyer, someone with great land use knowledge, a title insurance provider, or a planner. So what did I do? I did the best I could at gathering as much information as possible: all three of the filed subdivision maps, one of the abstracts, a lot of deeds, and all of the covenants, restrictions, and declarations I could find. What did I conclude? It seems that Evelyn Konrad, a Rosko Place resident who has been arguing – in her own unique way- that recent real estate development in that area is illegal, is right. Gasp!

Rosko Place used to be a potato field owned by Leo Rosko (1921-1996), who lived at 320 Hill Street (also known as 33 Old Field Road - photo at right), on the southeast corner of South Rosko Drive and Hill Street. He developed the land into a 24 acre housing subdivision in three phases, in 1960, 1966, and 1972 (filed maps 3211, 4563, and 5756 respectively). But when he did, all of the original parcel’s deeds included ten covenants and restrictions. They are as follows: (recorded 9/28/56)

1. Not more than one dwelling house for the accommodation of a single family only shall be erected on any lot with one outbuilding or accessory building which shall be a garage for use in connection with the dwelling and which may or may not be attached thereto. No other accessory buildings of any nature shall be erected, except a children’s playhouse in the rear yard at least 25 feet from any property line.

2. No portion of any building shall be erected on any lot nearer than 50 feet from the road or street line upon which such lot faces. In the case of a corner lot the owner may elect which street line shall be considered the one upon which such lot faces. In the case of a lot which is less than 175 feet in depth this setback restriction shall not apply but that contained in the then Zoning Ordinance of the Village of Southampton shall apply.

3. No rooming house shall be permitted or operated upon the premises. This shall not preclude the letting of one room to guests during any of the seasons nor the letting the entire premises for single family occupancy on either a seasonal or annual basis.

4. No livestock, poultry or live-creatures raised for milk, meat, eggs or any other animal products shall be housed, maintained or kept upon the premises.

5. No plants, whether for food, or ornamental, shall be raised and grown upon the premises for sale. This shall not preclude the planting and raising plants, whether for food or ornament for the personal use of the owner or then occupant of the premises.

6. In order to preserve the character and value of the subject property in general and that of individual purchasers as well as the investment of the undersigned parties and their successors in interest, prior to erection of any buildings on any part of said property the plans and elevations and locations on sites shall be approved by Leo Rosko or the designee hereinafter referred to, including, but not by way of limitation, drainage, plumbing and sewage disposal. Neither cost nor square nor cubic footage shall be arbitrarily controlling factors in the matter of approval, but rather esthetic suitability of plans and elevations to the individual site and to the area as a whole and sound building such as is currently found in usual first-class house construction and no plan so conforming with their requirements shall be arbitrarily rejected.

7. All plumbing equipment requiring drainage shall be connected to a proper sewage disposal system which in no event shall be the cesspool type but shall consist of a proper septic tank or similar sanitary device.

8. The undersigned Leo Rosko hereby reserves and is granted to himself or his designee hereinafter mentioned the right to modify and amend the foregoing provisions hereinabove set forth EXCEPTING AND PROVIDED, however, that no such modification or amendment shall alter or modify the provisions above set forth concerning use of premises and character of such use, required area in plots individually conveyed or held and/or subdivided and such right is hereby expressly reserved so that the aforesaid provisions may be altered, waived or modified in accordance herewith by a written instrument duly executed by the foregoing person and recorded in the Suffolk County Clerk’s Office.

9. The covenants and restrictions above provided shall run with the land.

10. The designee above referred to shall be one appointed by said Leo Rosko or, in the event of his death, by his personal representatives, by a document in the nature of an amendment to this Declaration in proper form for recording and recorded in the County Clerk’s Office, to be effective until revoked by a like document similarly executed and recorded. The power given to the personal representatives shall terminate five (5) years after the date of death of said Leo Rosko.

To summarize, only one house, one detached garage, and one children’s playhouse can be built on any one lot; the front yard setback should be 50 feet, and Leo Rosko must approve all plans and elevations.

But there is also another term, a legal one called “constructive notice.” This term means that if you drive into a subdivision and there is an obvious aesthetic (such as there was, all houses were of a certain size, height, style, setback, etc., like Levitt Town), then that also acts as a sort of unwritten code. The complete term is “Constructive Notice of a Common Plan and Scheme." Leo was the one reviewing and approving all of the designs and therefore the subdivision ended up with a bunch of houses that looked a lot alike, and that was the intent. Those parameters (one-story, certain square-footage) add to the restrictions of the area.

So this “constructive notice,” along with the covenants and restrictions, provide the aesthetic guidelines for the neighborhood. And these are binding with the land unless all the property owners get together and persuade the developer to declare them void. They might not be referenced on each and every deed, but that doesn’t make them irrelevant. They run with the land. They are mentioned in the very first deeds of each parcel in the subdivision, and sometimes later ones, but even when they are not, they always apply unless they are voided via declaration.

Through my research I never found that Leo ever appointed a replacement (or designee), nor was a declaration ever made voiding the covenants and restrictions. But they don’t disappear upon his death because they are binding with the land. So what does this all mean? It means they are being ignored. That’s the only way one can explain the transformation of eight out of sixty-seven once homogenous houses into very different ones. For the most part, they are lovely, but that’s not the point.

There are also some people who claim their property is not a part of the subdivision but that’s untrue. The original photo of the property as a potato field (see photo from 1954 at top) and the filed subdivision maps make it very clear what is and is not included (i.e. 99% of the properties within the development, that do not face Hill Street or Halsey Neck Lane).

Ms. Konrad has written many letters to the editor and made many board appearances over the past several years regarding the illegality of this work, and occasionally there is a letter from an owner or builder of one of the new houses claiming she is wrong. Regardless of what your opinion of Ms. Konrad is, now you have the facts. I found them on my own; no one gave them to me and no one paid me to research or write about this. But it’s frustrating to learn that wrong-doing is occurring at some level. The covenants and restrictions, and “constructive notice” are being plainly ignored. I would love someone to explain this to me. Any takers?

p.s. Photo at top is an aerial of Rosko Place circa 1954. House was Leo Rosko's. Aerial at the bottom is circa 2007.

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