Lazy Point Catch-22 for Threatened House

BLUE Fence
Robin Weingast’s blue fence at Lazy Point has caught the East Hampton Town Trustees’ attention. Russell Drumm

    The sky may not be falling, but the water is rising, and Eileen Raffo’s house on Shore Road at Lazy Point is in peril of being consumed by Gardiner’s Bay. With no room to retreat, she wants to raise her house with a new foundation. How high, if at all, was the question she and the East Hampton Town Trustees debated during the trustees’ Tuesday night meeting.
    Like everyone else in the Lazy Point community of cottages, Ms. Raffo owns her house, but the land is owned by the trustees on behalf of the people of East Hampton. They control the size and shape of the houses built on their land, and in recent times have been attempting to quell homeowners’ desire to extend their dwellings skyward.
    This leaves Ms. Raffo and others between the devil (in the form of the trustees’ height restrictions) and the deep blue sea (as respresented by the deep blue sea, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency).
    Based on FEMA’s experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the agency adopted new regulations related to structures located in potential flood zones. Should a homeowner want to expand a dwelling by 50 percent, or increase its value by 50 percent, it would have to be raised 12 feet above mean high tide.
    During Tuesday night’s meeting, Laurie Wiltshire of Land Planning Services, who was working for Ms. Raffo, told the trustees that the town engineer had determined that the house was in “imminent peril.” Ms. Raffo said she had gone to both the town’s zoning board of appeals and the State Department of Environmental Conservation requesting permission to raise the structure by four feet. A Z.B.A. hearing is scheduled for next month.
    But, Diane McNally, the trustees’ presiding officer, said she was concerned that any height increase — whether four feet or that plus an additional eight feet, four inches to meet the FEMA regulations — would set a precedent her board and the residents of Lazy Point would have to live with.
    John Courtney, the trustees’ attorney, said he had had a brief conversation with John Jilnicki, attorney for East Hampton Town, during which Mr. Jilnicki had raised concern that by not following FEMA guidelines, the town could lose out on future financial aid from the federal government.
    A related question was raised at Tuesday’s meeting: Would simply lifting Ms. Raffo’s house and raising its foundation by four feet be considered an expansion or improvement, according to FEMA’s definitions?
    Reached yesterday morning, Ms. McNally said the issue was also complicated by the fact that some Lazy Point house lots were smaller than others. If one house can still meet the town’s pyramid law and maximum height restrictions after being raised four feet, the next one might not. “It’s the whole shoreline issue. It’s townwide, a big question we can’t rush into.”
    Ms. McNally also wondered if, when reviewing Ms. Raffo’s plan, the Z.B.A. might feel obliged to require that they meet FEMA’s standards. “They may feel obligated to follow the guidelines. The trustees have leeway. We’re owners of the land, but they may feel differently.”
    Trustee Joe Bloecker said, “If this is approved, we have to have a plan for everyone. We need to set standards or Lazy Point will look like a bunch of jack-in-the-boxes.”
    In other Lazy Point business, the future of Robin Weingast’s blue fence is still up in the air, or perhaps a little lower. Ms. Weingast, another Shore Road resident, approached the trustees in October with a survey and application to build a fence four feet high, the maximum height under trustee regulations. Next thing the trustees knew, it was built, a bit too high, and painted bright blue, all without a permit.
    “She did a lot of clearing and put the fence up without permission,” Ms. McNally said. At first the trustees were bent on making her take it down, but Ms. McNally said her board was waiting to see Ms. Weingast’s plan to replant the vegetation that had been cleared, and looking into ways to make the fence conform to trustee standards.
    As for the bright blue color, the trustee clerk said, “I’m not an architectural review board.”