A house can be built at 85 South Edgemere Street in Montauk on a controversial vacant lot at the edge of Fort Pond, just not the exact house the owners had wanted, according to a 3-2 vote Tuesday by the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals. The lot is slightly over an acre, but with a very small building envelope due to surrounding wetlands.
The application has a checkered history. When the first public hearing on the site was held in 2011, board members noted, there was no public opposition. Variances were needed, and they appeared to have been approved in February 2012, making it possible for construction of a 2,437-square-foot house with a 410-square-foot carport to begin.
Between then and last October, however, the property changed hands. The new owners, Timothy and Noell Twiggs, seeking to modify the original proposal, applied to fold the carport into the square footage of the house, which would then be two stories and 2,950 square feet, with a deck the same size as had been approved in February, 1,195 square feet. On Oct. 10, 2012, the board approved their plan to fold in the carport.
“A couple of months go by, and neighbors notice the property being cleared,” Brian Gosman, board member and Montauk resident, told the board on Tuesday. Meanwhile, it had emerged that two essential setback variances had been overlooked in the original application. On March 7, the building department revoked the building permit, citing the missing variances.
The quest for those two variances — 5 feet and 8.4 feet — brought the project back before the board on June 11, when a new hearing led to an outpouring of local opposition. Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, told the board then that the growth of the proposed house was responsible.
Alex Walter, the board chairman, said on Tuesday that while both the applicants and the board had overlooked the needed variances when the October modification was made, the onus was on the applicant to submit an accurate survey. The variances may seem small, he told the board, but they were large for such a constrained lot, at 25 and 45 percent.
Mr. Gosman and Don Cirillo argued that the project should be approved in its entirety, but the other members disagreed, on the grounds that, as Mr. Walter had said, the variances were substantial enough to change their view of the entire proposal.
“This thing has to be cleaned up, and we can do it now,” Mr. Walter said.
Mr. Walter said he was all in favor of the 50-foot variance previously granted for a septic system, which, he pointed out, will be superior to those in surrounding properties. He also supported the special permits needed to build in such an ecologically fragile area, but suggested that the owners be encouraged to redesign the house so it would not need the two new variances.
Mr. Cirillo asked if Mr. Walter was saying that the house would have to be smaller.
“I’m not saying smaller,” Mr. Walter said. The Twiggses could build their 2,950-square-foot house, he said, if they could design it so it would not need the variances.
“They can build a larger house than mine,” David Lys said, siding with Mr. Walter.
“I think it would be larger than all of ours,” Mr. Walter said.
Lee White, also a Montauk resident, joined with Mr. Walter and Mr. Lys to reapprove the permits and the septic system, but not the new variances. Mr. Cirillo and Mr. Gosman voted to approve the application in its entirety.
In a memo to the board written before the June hearing, Brian Frank, the Planning Department’s head environmentalist, described the archaeological significance of the site, one of the last undeveloped parcels on Fort Pond. Archaeological investigations there revealed many artifacts, he wrote, with the property deemed potentially worthy of listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The surveys concluded that the lot held “a treasure trove of archaeological information of prehistoric life and ways of Native Americans, their land use, and cultural history.”