By Robert J. Randell, Esq. I was a younger lawyer in the mid-1960s, just moving into my own practice in Manhattan. The Millsteins had hired a law firm to handle a zoning violation charged against them in Long Island, New York. The firm asked me to assist in the Millsteins’ defense and as the matter progressed, I was given the case entirely.
The Millsteins had just purchased a three-family house as a gift to their housekeeper, who was retiring after many years of service. Although the house was in a beach community that was technically zoned for two-family dwellings, the municipality had permitted many houses in that zone to be converted to three-family dwellings. Beach communities often allowed such conversions, anxious to attract summer vacationers. Over time, such conversions resulted in increased market values, which was reflected in the Millsteins’ purchase price. The belated attempt by the municipality to reverse the area’s zoning practice resulted in zoning violations against the Millsteins and many other owners. For the housekeeper, this resulted in both a loss of value for her new home and reduced potential for rental income.
The Millsteins, among others, fought the zoning enforcement attempts on legal grounds - that the long-established zoning policy amounted to a de facto zoning change, and that the belated zoning enforcement was an arbitrary and illegal attempt to use a “dead letter” law to “re-zone” a freely permitted zoning use that had existed for many years. Such challenges are not without
legal precedent. This resulted in a full-scale court trial on constitutional and technical grounds, which lasted for nearly a month, and which resulted in a lengthy legal opinion in favor of the municipality. The Millsteins
appealed the decision all the way to New York State’s highest court, which ultimately upheld the housing violation.
Although their efforts were not successful, this story illustrates the Millsteins’ life-long commitment to loyalty, fairness, equity and charity.
During the extended period of the appeals, Phyllis Millstein began to consult with me about various other matters – sometimes dealing with her many pets, but generally relating to her family and social activities. Irving was at that time a partner in a growing clothing manufacturing business, the legal affairs of which were handled by others.
As the manufacturing business grew and the Millsteins prospered, they moved into a townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which they redesigned and completely renovated. Later they built a modern beach house on the far eastern south shore of Long Island, in Amagansett, where they spent their summers.