New York State In-depth

Paul DeChance is leaving the ZBA post at Brookhaven for a job as Southold Town’s attorney

Paul DeChance, chairman of the Brookhaven Town Zoning Board of Appeals, resigned from his post last week after Southold officials tapped him as the town’s attorney.

Southold City Council voted 6-0 on Jan. 3 to hire DeChance to replace acting city attorney John Burke, who served in the position for more than a year after city attorney Bill Duffy resigned.

DeChance, 61, of Miller Place, starts at Southold on Tuesday.

“He has decades of experience in local law, which is a field of its own,” Southold supervisor Scott Russell told Newsday on Thursday. He has not disclosed DeChance’s salary.

Burke will join Brookhaven Town’s legal department as an attorney Monday, city spokesman Kevin Molloy said.

DeChance, an attorney who owns a summer home in East Marion, was appointed to the Brookhaven ZBA in 2002 and has served as its chairman since 2007.

The board decides on requests for exemptions from zoning regulations, including requests from major developers and homeowners seeking the legalization of ancillary structures such as sheds, decks and swimming pools.

Brookhaven officials praised DeChance at a city council meeting Thursday, calling him a respected authority on municipal building codes.

“Paul DeChance was an excellent Chair of the ZBA who was knowledgeable and professional,” said Supervisor Edward P. Romaine. “He gave people who appeared [before the board] the courtesy they deserved, and he served with distinction. I’m sure he will do a great job as Southold Town’s attorney.”

Councilor Neil Foley, a former ZBA member, called DeChance “the best in the business, the best in the state,” and Councilwoman Jane Bonner added that DeChance “raised the bar tremendously.”

City Council voted 7-0 on Thursday to appoint East Setauket’s solicitor Howard M. Bergson, a retired Suffolk District Court judge, as the new chairman of the zoning committee.

Romaine said Bergson “obviously knows the law and can administer ZBA with the fairness and professionalism and legal acumen required of one of our busiest boards.”

DeChance told Newsday Thursday that some of his ZBA decisions — all handwritten, he said — were used as examples at state conferences to train community planners.

He said the key to making good zoning decisions is “preparation and patience. Something that comes to you as case number 1 will be different than something that comes to you six hours later as case number 51.”

Brookhaven Zoning Board meetings, held twice a month, typically have dozens of agenda items that stretch meetings to 8-10 hours in length.

“I’m not going to miss this,” DeChance said. “I will miss serving the townsfolk.”

By Carl MacGowan and Jean Paul Salamanca

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