Is a new house to be built on Cranberry Hole Road in Amagansett closer to wetlands than the one already on the property? And would the new house be a minor enlargement or a major one? Those are the questions the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals wrestled with Tuesday as it considered Michael Patrick and Carol Sedwick’s application for several variances to tear down their 2,054-square-foot house and replace it with a larger one.
The current house has come to the end of its life cycle, the couple’s architect, William Leeds of Leeds Architecture in Southampton, told the board, adding that the new 3,457-square-foot house planned is environmentally friendly, with solar panels on the roof. Larry Penny, an environmental consultant for the couple (and the town’s former Natural Resources director), said the new house would be “a very modest, minimalist expansion.” Mr. Patrick, Ms. Sedwick, and their representatives pointed out that part of the increase in the house’s square footage comes from using second-floor space, rather than having open cathedral ceilings as in their current house. The expansion, they said, is actually very slight. Brian Frank, the Planning Department’s chief environmental analyst, did not see it that way.
The couple’s representatives, led by Laurie Wiltshire of Land Planning Services, and Mr. Frank, agreed that the just over one-acre property, which is partially covered by wetlands, is constrained in terms of possible redevelopment. Those wetlands, Mr. Frank said, form a unique refuge for all manner of wildlife, including rare species of birds and reptiles.
According to Mr. Frank, the house is now 30 feet from the wetlands, when 100-foot setbacks are normally required. The new structure, which needs four different wetlands setback variances in addition to the one required for its septic system, would be 28 feet from the wetlands, he said, with the decking only 22 feet away. “Wetland setbacks themselves are the most effective tools in the toolbox” to protect wetlands, he told the board.
Mr. Frank also argued that nothing had changed since the couple bought their house in 2004. If the board granted the variances, he asked, how could it turn down similar future requests?
Ms. Wiltshire pointed out that the board had approved a proposed teardown and rebuild project on a similarly constrained piece of property on East Lake Drive in Montauk on Jan. 22. In that case, too, the existing house is in the middle of wetlands, where it would also have been impossible to create a building envelope that would not require major setback variances.
But to Mr. Frank, who had supported the East Lake Drive application, the two proposals were miles apart. In the East Lake Drive proposal, the new construction would cover less land than what is currently covered, a benefit for the town environmentally, whereas the Cranberry Hole Road proposal would increase the lot coverage and move construction closer to wetlands, he said.
David Rattray, a neighbor to the east, seconded Mr. Frank’s opposition in a letter read into the record on Tuesday night. Mr. Rattray, the editor of The East Hampton Star, wrote that while granting the variances would financially be in his best interest, because it could potentially increase the value of his house, such variances were not in the best interest of the area.
Ms. Wiltshire told the board that there was an e-mail from the neighbor to the west in support of the proposal, but that e-mail was not introduced into the record.
The board will likely decide on the matter within the next two weeks.
The board did grant on Tuesday the variances needed for William Anderson to replace his mobile home at the Montauk Shores Condominiums on Deforest Road, with a new 1,224-square-foot trailer and a 267-square-foot deck.
Another replacement proposed in the mobile home park — a 610-square foot trailer for Michael Burns — seemed to hit a major pothole, however. It wasn’t the trailer, but the 270-square-foot deck that stopped the proceedings.
Bryan Gosman of Montauk, a board member, supported the proposal, as did Don Cirillo. Lee White, though, was troubled by the decking, which extends into a public area, towards the rocks that form the revetment that protects the entire complex from the ocean.
“We’re all in agreement on the trailer itself,” Alex Walter, the board’s chairman, said. “It all boils down to the deck. This is the closest one to the revetment,” he said.
He said that, while the management of the park had approved the proposal, it was the job of the board to look out for the best interests of the entire town. While not stating his position, he indicated that it appeared that the board could deadlock if the vote was held, 2-2, since one member of the board, Sharon McCobb, was absent. The board agreed to table the vote until a future session.