In, Out Staircase Debate

    By a vote of 4 to 1, the lone dissenter being its chairman, the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals granted a variance on Tuesday that will allow Glen Pushelberg and George Yabu to keep their two-story house as is. The house lacks an interior staircase between the two floors, which is contrary to town code.
    The code was written to prevent homeowners from creating multiple units in a single house by building separate entrances with no internal connection between them. “There shall be at least one common entrance on the ground floor, through which every room . . . shall be readily accessible by passage through the interior of the residence,” it says.
    The problem for the board was that no town agency — not the planning board, not the building inspector’s office, not even the Z.B.A. itself — had ever noticed that the oceanfront house had been designed with an external staircase. Everyone had approved the plans. The Z.B.A. granted variances for the 100-foot-wide parcel, at 90 Shore Road on Napeague in an area known as Montauk-by-the-Sea, in 2009.
    The house is partially encased in a cedar-slatted exoskeleton, and the staircase, which is invisible from the street, appears from inside to be enclosed.      Designed by a team from Stelle Architects, headed by Viola Nouhani, it emphasizes open air and light throughout, with the external staircase as a key element.
    “I find this a little mysterious that nobody found this along the way,” said Alex Walter, the Z.B.A. chairman. “It is a beautiful house, there is no doubt about it, but the question needs to be asked.”
    A story about the house appears on the front page of the Habitat section in this issue.
     “No one noticed until it was built that there was no interior staircase,” said Don Cirillo, a board member. He argued that the cost of altering the steel and wood structure, which is essentially finished, would be prohibitive.
    “It would be a burden to retrofit an interior staircase,” he said.
    “No one caught it in the application process,” agreed Brian Gosman, a board member.
    Mr. Cirillo and Mr. Gosman were joined by Sharon McCobb and Lee White, voting to approve the variance, allowing the structure to remain unchanged.
    “I feel strongly about this. I’m going to vote to deny it,” said Mr. Walter.
    Two hearings were held the same night. The first was on a request by Elizabeth Corrigan of 8 South Ferncroft Place in Montauk to allow a shed to remain in place; it was built within two feet of a front yard where 30 feet is the standard. Ms. Corrigan also asked for a variance from the pyramid law, which is designed to prevent buildings from looming over neighboring properties and blocking public views. Mike Varitt, a relative of Ms. Corrigan, told the board the property was on a triangular lot and no neighbors were affected by the shed.
    Richard Whalen of Land Marks made the second request on behalf of a corporation, 225 Old Montauk Highway L.L.C., which owns adjoining properties on Old Montauk Highway. The owner wants to install a tennis court at number 225, 40 feet from the property line at 221. The required distance is 50 feet.
    No one spoke in opposition to either request, though a neighbor of 225, who did not put her name into the public record, asked informally from the audience if night lighting was going to be installed for the tennis courts. Mr. Whalen told the board there were no such plans, and agreed, should approval be granted, to a stipulation banning lighting.