East Hampton Hardship, Montauk Wetlands

“We didn’t take the liberty to make a huge deck; it was the only logical place to put it,” said Tracy Stock. Morgan McGivern

    Four years ago, Robert Schroder and his wife, Tracy Stock, moved from a cottage in Springs to a house on Sylvie Lane in East Hampton that had better handicapped access for their adult son, Chris Stock, who sustained severe brain damage in a car accident nine years ago. But he had trouble navigating his wheelchair on the deck and had fallen off it twice. To resolve the problem, Mr. Schroder extended the deck to 12 by 10 feet. He also put up a pergola as a place where his son could spend most of his outside time, and built a shed, all without building permits. The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals heard the family’s request for two variances to legalize the construction on May 24.
    At the hearing, Mr. Schroder admitted that he “probably knew there were setback qualities,” but said he  was confused. He had asked for information from a town assessor, but to no avail, he said.
    Mr. Schroder increased the size of the deck three years ago with the help of a friend. The shed was constructed a year and a half ago to store an old wheelchair and a lawnmower. Recently, however, Mr. Schroder reduced the size of the shed, to 6 by 4 feet, explaining that a building inspector told him it was too large. He had thought, he said, that if the shed was small enough it wouldn’t need a building permit. “I have cute little windows, doors. I’m asking for a foot-and-a-half variance.”
    Vic Dassa, a contractor and builder who owns adjoining property, argued against a permit for the pergola, saying it was within an inch of his property line. “The law out here is clear if you’re building anything,” he said.
    Commenting that he had been an East Hampton resident for 40 years, Mr. Dassa said, “I’m the one responsible for creating Sylvie Lane. I own most of the property there. I own a home behind the Stocks.  I was there when he put up the shed and the pergola.” However, Mr. Dassa said he had been unable to object to the pergola earlier because he had throat cancer for the past five years.
    The placement of the deck was strategic so that Ms. Stock could watch her son from the kitchen. “I have to be able to get to him within two to three minutes,” she said. Her son cannot speak and has difficulty swallowing. His mother said they could not put the deck on the north side of the house because of mold. It would be highly detrimental if he got sick, she said.  
    The pergola is covered in vines and other vegetation. Mr. Dassa was concerned by the height of the pergola, and the family’s part-time residency. The pergola creates the potential for future owners to have loud parties, which could affect properties in the vicinity, he said. He has a building permit for a vacant lot he owns next door.
    “I respect what they’re going through with their son. They should’ve gone for a variance,” Mr. Dassa said. “They could’ve put it elsewhere, why right on the property line?”
    According to Lisa D’Andrea, an environmentalist on the staff of the East Hampton Town Planning Department, the 14-foot variance being sought for the deck is substantial, while the variance requested for the shed is minimal since it sits 9.7 feet from the property line instead of the required 10 feet. However, she expressed concern about the variances.
    “If these variances are granted, they’re not specific to the person, but the property. You might not have someone handicapped in the future; you could have parties,” she said.
    The board took no action, but the possibility of a compromise was discussed that would entail removing the pergola while allowing the deck to remain where it is until the family no longer lives in the house. It was unclear if such a covenant would be legally possible.  
    Meanwhile that night, the board heard an application from Robert E. Gosman for a natural resources permit and five variances to build a house on Fairview Avenue in Montauk. The Town Planning Department recommended his application be denied because the one-acre lot is constrained by wetlands.
    The Z.B.A. had approved such a permit and five variances in 2006. Mr. Gosman now plans a larger, 2,570-square-foot, two-story house with decks on both levels.
    The new plan was designed to fit within the 2006 setbacks, Laurie Wiltshire of Land Planning Service said on behalf of the applicant, noting that the septic system was in the same location as previously proposed.
    “This current application is really about getting a bigger house,” Jeffrey Bragman, an attorney representing Bill Akin, a neighbor, said. According to Mr. Bragman, the previous application had been under review for two years because the land “has problems. Your obligation is to maximize environmental protection. A larger house will take away the natural recharge.” Apparently, the septic system would have to go in a freshwater wetland and there are other wetlands and a pond nearby.
    Tyler Borsack, an environmental technician with the Planning Department, said plans now call for a house 72 percent larger than the original. “While the distance of the residence to the closest wetland has not changed from the previous application, the proposed residence is expanding its footprint greatly,” he said.
    Joel Halsey, a senior analyst with the Planning Department, also spoke, commenting on the runoff that would be created. In recommending that the application be denied, the planners said the increased use proposed could not be mitigated.