Barn or Business Is $64,000 Question

The board turned its attention to whether there was any evidence at all that the barn had ever been used as a business.

    The East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals entered the labyrinth of logic inside a barn on Abraham’s Path in Amagansett Tuesday night as it began its initial deliberation on a challenge to a Nov. 3, 2011, reinstatement of a building permit by the town’s acting chief building inspector, Tom Preiato, who had revoked the permit five weeks earlier.
    In 2008, the town’s chief building inspector, the late Don Sharkey, issued a certificate of occupancy for a barn at 459 Abraham’s Path, determining that the structure had been used continuously as a business since 1957 and therefore was a “pre-existing, nonconforming” building, allowing it to be used as a business despite being in a residentially zoned neighborhood.
    Mr. Preiato issued a building permit to construct a woodworking shop in the barn in November 2010, based on the 2008 certificate of occupancy, but he rescinded that building permit on Aug. 31, 2011, after several neighbors argued that the building was not entitled to pre-existing and nonconforming status as it had not truly been used as a business.
    On Nov. 3, after hearing from the attorney representing Ronald Webb, who holds the lease on the property, Mr. Preiato sent out a memo reversing himself again.
    “I think the $64,000 question is whether there was a business there,” Alex Walter, the board’s chairman, said as the board began deliberating.
    The board quickly turned its attention to whether there was any evidence at all that the barn, which has no electricity, had ever been used as a business.
    “There should be something like a ledger sheet,” said Don Cirillo, a board member, picking up where he’d left off at the April 24 public hearing on the matter. He asked if there was a single cancelled check or receipt that would show that the barn had been used as a business.
    “There was no electricity running to the barn. Here we have a very, very, loose” definition of a business, said Sharon McCobb, a board member.
    Lee White, another board member, pointed out that the affidavits produced by Mr. Webb’s attorney, Jonathan Tarbet of Tarbet, Lester, and Schoen, appeared more like form letters than thought-out statements of fact.
    “I think if there was an existing business for that many years,” there would be some proof, said Bryan Gosman, another member.
    “The C of O was issued to a mistake in fact,” Mr. Cirillo said, “A barn is a barn.”
    The board will continue the discussion at its June 12 work session.
    In other zoning board news, at a May 22 meeting, a number of neighbors turned out to oppose a new pool and pool house on Wyandanch Lane in the Beach Hampton section of Amagansett.
    Lewis Meyers, the property owner, whose house is on an adjoining lot, needs a wetlands setback variance and an eight-foot variance from the setbacks from his own property line to build a 648-square-foot swimming pool and a 180-square-foot pool house.
    At one time, an accessory structure like a pool or pool house could not be built alone on a property that did not also contain a primary residence, but that changed in 2008. After the comedian Jerry Seinfeld built a baseball field on property next to his on Further Lane in East Hampton, the town board enacted what some call the Seinfeld law, allowing accessory structures on separate, adjoining properties under the same ownership, provided they would allow for construction of a main house should ownership change in the future.
    Mr. Meyers’s attorney, Nancy Marshall of Biondo and Hammer, argued that the zoning board could approve the variances he needs while requiring a covenant, that, if the property was ever sold, the pool would have to be removed.
    “To sum up, the Meyers family will definitely benefit, and it shouldn’t impact the neighborhood,” she said.
    But the neighbors on hand disagreed.
    “I can understand a variance to build a house, but I can’t understand why you’d grant a variance to build a pool,” said Florence Polikoff, who’s owned a house on an adjacent property for 40 years.
    Mark Bloom, also a 40-year resident of the neighborhood, followed Ms. Polikoff, and presented the board with a letter, from a third neighbor in opposition who was unable to attend the hearing.
    “This is as nonessential as possible,” Mr. Bloom said of the pool. “On our block, as far as I know, there is one tiny pool two doors down from Mr. Meyers. I object to the pool because it changes the nature of the neighborhood.”
    He reminded the board of its recent decision of May 8 denying a setback variance from the adjacent roads for a proposed 512-square-foot swimming pool on Treasure Island Drive, also in Beach Hampton.
    “This area has a definable character,” Mr. White said at the time, arguing that the pool would have had a negative effect on the quality of life in the quiet neighborhood.