Heavenly Gates Are Not Quite So Heavenly

Two seven-foot-tall gateposts before a cul-de-sac on Beverly Road in Springs
Two seven-foot-tall gateposts before a cul-de-sac on Beverly Road in Springs are at the center of a new zoning controversy. Heather Dubin

    After several years of postponements, the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals heard an application on Nov. 1 to revoke a certificate of occupancy for a non-operating gate flanked by two stone columns, located on a cul-de-sac at 17 Beverly Road in Springs.
    Tom Preiato, the town’s senior building inspector, claimed that the C. of O. was issued in error, since the East Hampton Town Planning Board never approved the construction of the gates on a private road, which is required by town code. The East Hampton Town Architectural Review Board did not approve it either, which was also necessary. In addition, Mr. Preiato noted that the gates are accessory structures on land that is separate from a principal structure. Finally, and perhaps most important, there is disagreement as to the ownership of the property where the gates stand.
    Lee Auerbach and Linda Levin-Maduri received an okay in February 2009 from the late Don Sharkey, then the town’s chief building inspector, to build the gates at the entrance of the cul-de-sac that led to their driveway. The couple purportedly acquired the land from the Hampton Bays United Methodist Church in June 2000, on a tax deed to Heaven Properties, L.L.C. However, Lance Pomerantz, a title examiner, said the sale was void, and that Eric Pearl and Jill Davis, who own the house next door to the Auerbachs’, are the rightful owners of the section of Beverly Road where the seven-foot-tall gates stand.
      Mr. Preiato told the Z.B.A. that “the C. of O. was offered under a different tax map. The ownership — I haven’t been shown a clear title. In the chronology of deeds from the title examiner, I’m not showing Heaven Properties, the applicant, as the owner. Therefore, any approvals or lack thereof, I feel a void.” Even if Heaven Properties owned both the Auerbach and Pearl lots, he said, the gates were still problematic. “I don’t feel that this gate, with its column and accessory structures, should be there,” he said. “I’m making an attempt to do it properly.”
    Mr. Pearl also addressed the board. “It wasn’t a neighborly thing, to build a gate on the road in the front of my house,” he said. “It is on our property. We had more than one person do the title research.” Mr. Pearl submitted letters from immediate neighbors who are opposed to the gates for reasons related to emergency-vehicle access, child safety, and aesthetics.
    Jeffrey Bragman, counsel for Mr. Pearl and Ms. Davis, said the question of ownership would “have to be worked out in the courts,” adding there was clear evidence that it belongs to his clients. “This gate, which is in the roadway, should have gone to the planning board as the acting board of review,” said Mr. Bragman, “The alleged owner . . . should have gone to the planning board. It did not.  And it should have gone to the A.R.B. for approval, and it did not.” He noted that “there was a false start in the A.R.B. At one point it was issued, and then rescinded.”
    The A.R.B. granted a permit for the gates in May 2008. After Mr. Bragman informed the board’s attorney of the “misrepresentation,” it was rescinded.
    Mr. Pearl told the Z.B.A. that “seven of the neighbors were against it. The Auerbachs and another family were for it.”
    “Building that gate there, cars drive up to it, stop at the gate, figuring it’s someone’s driveway, and then they back up into my driveway, which is unsafe,” he added.
    There was support for the gate from neighbors who live next door to the Auerbachs, at 18 Beverly Road. But “regardless of what neighbors have given permission, it doesn’t play into it at all,” said Mr. Preiato. “We’re code-driven. I don’t like the gate or not like the gate. I personally have no feeling about the gate. I have a feeling about my job. I have a feeling about bringing the code to fruition.”
    “I’m not asking for the gates to be torn down,” the building inspector concluded. “But I am asking for the gates to be put there legally. And I don’t know how that can be done quite easily, because it’s not a piece of property that lends itself to a structure.”