Wainscott Wombles Ambles to Approval

    With two new members sitting at the table for the first time on Jan. 25, the East Hampton Town Planning Board presented a unified front as it reached several significant decisions.
    In a 6-0 vote, with one member, Diana Weir, the vice chairwoman, recusing herself, the board approved a site plan application for Wainscott Wombles on the corner of Sayre’s Path and Montauk Highway in Wainscott. Ms. Weir had been the chairwoman of the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee before being appointed to the planning board earlier this winter, and had written letters to the town board on behalf of the committee regarding the project. “I thought it would not be appropriate to weigh in since it was in the works before I was appointed, and the committee had registered an opinion publicly,” she said in an e-mail Monday.
    Michael Davis, the applicant, plans to tear down a 1,375-square-foot building and replace it with a one-story office building with a full basement and the same dimensions as what is there now. He also plans to build a 600-square-foot, two-story residence for his son Zachary, with a first-floor garage along with eight parking spaces, and a new sanitary and water-supply system on the parcel. The property is a commercial site in a residential district. The existing building does not conform with current zoning for the district, but was built before those rules were in place.
    At a hearing on Dec. 7, people opposed to the project questioned the legalities for both a commercial and residential use on a residential lot. Other speakers expressed concern that the project would alter the landscape and mar the rural character of the area. Many claimed it would be a catalyst pushing other commercial properties to expand to a dual use, and lead to more density.
    David Eagan of MacLachlan and Eagan, the attorney for the Concerned Citizens of Wainscott, has appealed a determination by Tom Preiato, the town’s senior building inspector, which allows for a commercial and residential use on the property, to the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals. According to Mr. Eagan, the two uses, commercial and residential, cannot co-exist on the same lot. The appeal was scheduled for a public hearing on Jan. 17, but was postponed as appointments to the Z.B.A. had not been finalized. A new date has not been set.
    The planning board does not have jurisdiction over zoning, and did not address the issue. Denise Schoen, the applicant’s attorney, informed the board at the hearing that town code permits two uses on a commercial property, and this lot already had an office and retail use. Its nonconforming business use, she said, also allows for there to be two uses on the site — the retail business and an office, as well as the proposed single family residence.
    Ms. Schoen presented the board with a list of almost 20 commercial properties in the area with secondary residential uses. Land Planning Services, which represents the applicant and has offices two lots east of Wainscott Wombles, was given as an example of an existing commercial site with both a business and residential use.
    The Planning Department found 17 parcels in the vicinity and said most of them had uses that pre-existed zoning. These parcels are located in residential zoning districts with some containing more than one commercial use, and others a mixture of residential and commercial uses. The residential use became an accessory use when added to a pre-existing commercial use. Two specific examples were cited where a residence had been added to a commercial use and one where a second commercial use was added to a parcel in a residential zone.
    In a separate memo to the board, the planning board’s attorney, Kathryn Santiago, said that the two uses were legal, and the Planning Department concluded that the proposal was in keeping with town code.
    “Of course, there has been a bit of drama involved with it,” said Bob Schaeffer, a board member, but he added, “I think it’s an improvement to the character of Wainscott.” Parking will be located behind the building instead of in front of it, and the building will no longer house a retail business or a diner, as it once did, he said. “I think the building is new and better looking than the old one, and the landscaping is improved. Which will be a better sight when one is driving through Wainscott,” he said.
    During the hearing a speaker had compared the completed project to something on County Road 39 in Southampton, and Mr. Schaeffer strongly disagreed, claiming there was “no merit in that at all.” Also, he said, “I don’t agree this would be precedent setting. . . . We were asked for counsel to advise us, so she has. I recommend to the board no further changes necessary.”
    The rest of the board agreed with Mr. Schaeffer. “I’ve supported this application from the beginning; my opinion hasn’t changed. The Planning Department has addressed all the concerns, and it all falls within town law,” said Nancy Keeshan, a board member.
    “We have a pre-existing nonconforming with two uses already there, an office and residence — we promote this. We’ve been trying to get these apartments over structures for a long time,” Pat Schutte, a board member, said. “I am comfortable with our counsel’s determination and the building inspector that this is legal. I’m comfortable with this application moving forward,” he said.
    The two new members to the board also concurred. “From what I’ve gone through, and the recommendation from legal and the building inspector, I’m very comfortable,” said J.P. Foster.
    “I’ve been briefed on this application, and many of the issues of this are out of our jurisdiction. Let this go to the building inspector. This all seems in compliance with town code, I support this application going forward,” said Ian Calder-Piedmonte.
    Reed Jones, the chairman, concluded the vote, “This was a very spirited public hearing. Both sides had good points. After the public hearing a lot of research was done, and I’m comfortable with what counsel has shown us,” he said.
    The board also added a covenant that the garage will be solely for residential use.
    Later that evening, in a unanimous decision, the board also approved Red Wolf Broadcasting’s application for a tower to serve a new radio station. The station, 94.9 FM, will be located in Montauk, and could be up and running by the spring.