East Hampton Town officials find themselves in a bit of a self-created puzzle insofar as the increasing practice of construction and landscaping contractors storing work trucks and heavy equipment on residential lots. The law limits what can be done in some cases, but in others it is maddenly ineffective.
As the South Fork population grows — and the service sector of the economy gains as well — so too has the use of residential properties as commercial adjuncts, even though it is illegal. Unfortunately, a sensible request to clarify a point of confusion that could aid in providing neighbors some relief has run up against the political quicksand in Town Hall these days.
Industrially zoned parcels, where commercial vehicles can be appropriately and legally stored, are few in the Town of East Hampton, and it is likely that smaller businesses would not be able to buy or rent legal places to store vehicles and equipment without government help. This is the main reason why, as commerce has grown, so too has the use of private driveways and lawns as staging areas for a number of concerns.
The only for-profit uses allowed on residential properties are a single “home office,” rental of up to two rooms, or a (somewhat bizarre) “residential museum.” The code is vague about what can happen out of doors and that is from where the trouble stems.
In one example, a builder paved his entire rear yard with blacktop and leaves up to half a dozen of his trucks and vans there every night, while he runs operations out of an office over his garage. In another case, a Springs neighbor has fought a mostly losing battle to have an earth-moving business move some of its fleet elsewhere.
Complicating matters, if a property is owner-occupied, there is very little under the current rules that the town can do about the number of vehicles on a house lot — though this particular aspect of the law likely would not withstand a court challenge because it discriminates against rental tenants by holding them to a four-vehicle maximum. But another aspect of present law may have bearing, if enforcers are willing to go there: the prohibited conversion of residences and properties to businesses beyond those few classifications allowed in the code.
From time to time the town has tried to help contractors and other businesses by providing space for their activities; the industrial park near the airport is a limited example. But there is more officials could do. One idea once bandied about that may still be viable is to make some of the unused space at the former town landfill on Springs-Fireplace Road available for trucks and equipment storage. Another notion might be for the town to buy commercially zoned parcels and charge qualified business owners a nominal rent. Understanding first how widespread the practice is and estimating how much additional commercial parking may be needed, as some on the town board have suggested, is a smart first step.
However, good intentions and attempts to revise a proposed ban on certain truck parking should not forestall an effort to provide a degree of relief to neighbors of properties that have been given over to commercial use. The rules are on the books concerning commercial use of houses. What is lacking is ample will to see that they are followed.