Boatel’s Big Plans Reap Unrest in Kismet

The high watermark – bay front for guests only, according to signage.

By Kevin Lowry

Betrayed – That’s how some of the locals feel about the plan to double the size of the old Kismet Boatel by adding a second story. Built in the 1950s, the boatel had been showing its age. Because it was previously zoned residential, the 10-unit building which sits on the shore of the Great South Bay, was being rented out seasonally by its former owners. Over the years, several developers have eyed the property only to be thwarted by the seemingly impossible task of altering the zoning. That all changed recently when a well-known local resident Dwayne Diesu acquired the Boatel for a reported $1.95 million with two partners under the name of Lighthouse Shores LLC. Gary Leone, president of the Kismet Community Association said, “He [Diesu] told us he was going to restore it to its natural beauty.”

The property could not be in a more ideal location for vacation rental with one of the best sunset views on the island. “When I lived there, I used to say it was like living in a painting.”, wrote long-time resident Jeannie Lieberman in an article on her website. She dubbed Diesu “Kismet’s new hero” for “trying to maintain the original flavor and flair of the Boatel.” Others were skeptical and perhaps not without cause.

The first order of business for Mr. Diesu was to renovate the rental units and the exterior of the building. “I have to admit, the place looks much better”, said Leone. But after that, the tide turned. The new owner petitioned the Town Planning Board to recommend changing the zoning to commercial. In the face of strong opposition by some residents spearheaded by local owner Don Ahearn, the Planning Board made that recommendation to the Town Council and the Council approved it unanimously. The Boatel can now conduct short term rentals.

Next the new owners proposed to construct a full second floor on the building. That’s when the controversy got hot. The second floor, some said, will obscure views of the bay, bring more tourists and tax the Village resources. The proposal showed two setback encroachments. That didn’t stop Dwayne. He applied for and reportedly received a variance for an exception to the building code for one of the encroachments. Mr. Ahearn, claiming to represent several residents of the close-knit community has expressed suspicion of nepotism in the process. He went so far as to initiate an unsuccessful lawsuit to ban the project.

Most recently, Lighthouse Shores has staked a claim on over 165 feet of bayfront beach by posting No Trespassing signs. “The Boatel has always owned that beach up to the high-water mark. But, except for boaters, no one has ever been excluded from the beach.” Claimed Gary Leone.

Lighthouse has continued to operate the Boatel with rentals through last fall and, is now open for the 2023 season.

The fate of the project still remains unclear as several obstacles remain including FEMA and County Health Dept. issues. The Boatel website boasts 10 renovated suites yet a FOIL response from the Town of Islip revealed no permits for renovations. A letter from Kelly Risotto, Senior Ecologist/GIS Manager of Land Use Ecological Services indicates that the NYSDEC will require an Innovative/Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment System for the increase in living space proposed, as well as establishment of a native planted buffer for protection of tidal wetlands and water quality within Great South Bay. Ms. Risotto goes on to say, “Due to the increase in flow proposed for the additional commercial space, SCDHS ( Suffolk County Dept. of Health Services) will require a new sanitary system that meets current standards.” Grace Kelly-McGovern, Public Information Director, Suffolk County Dept. of Health agreed saying, “SCDHS Sanitary Code Article 6 changes (effective January 1, 2018) have eliminated “grandfathering” of existing sanitary flow for this type of proposal (which has no Office of Wastewater Management approvals), unless an Innovative and Alternative Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (I/A OWTS) system is installed.”

 In her same letter, Risotto says that in order to determine whether or not a lift is required pursuant to FEMA requirements, “true and accurate construction costs based on the most recent RSMeans edition (with location factor), or estimate from a Certified estimator (A.S.P.E. or similar professional organization) must be performed.” The cost of the I/A OWTS could significantly impact the FEMA ratio and potentially trigger a lift. The Islip Town Council however specifically precluded Lighthouse from raising the structure when they approved the zoning change.

 Mr. Diesu did not agree to an interview, but made the following comments via email. “There is no controversy any longer everything is settled months ago. Town has made their decision and compromise have be reached.”

“As far as that letter [from Ms. Risotto] when the town issues our permit we will have approval from waste water management just like the letter says. FEMA rules will of course be followed.”