Was the driveway asphalt, or was it gravel, or was it gravel-covered oil? And is gravel-covered oil the same as asphalt?
Those were the questions of the day at the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on March 26. The driveway in question is part of a sprawling 186,000-square-foot property at 2118 Montauk Highway on Napeague owned by Lawrence Weiss.
His representative at the hearing, Richard E. Whalen of LandMarks, told the board that after buying the property in 2005 Mr. Weiss began noticing pools of water on the driveway, and had a contractor from Speonk repave it with asphalt in 2009. He then went to the Building Department, seeking a permit to expand the house. In July 2012, Tom Preiato, the town’s head building inspector, ruled that the driveway had been altered, and because of that, no building permit could be issued.
An asphalt driveway is not permitted in that neighborhood under the town code, unless it was laid down before the code was written.
Mr. Whalen, in appealing Mr. Preiato’s determination, argued that it was. Asphalt and stone laid over oil are essentially the same thing, he said, and do not constitute an alteration. Asphalt, he said, is made up of oil and stone together.
Brian Frank of the town Planning Department saw it differently. “Oil and stone do not have the same structure as asphalt,” he said. “To look at the driveway and to say nothing was changed is irrational.”
Mr. Frank told the board it should tread lightly when considering reversing a determination by the building inspector. Such reversals can have “far-reaching” consequences, he said.
Board members looked at before-and-after aerial photographs of the driveway. The problem was, said Don Cirillo, that though you could see stones on the surface, there was no way to tell what was beneath them.
Drew Bennett, an engineer, addressed that issue for Mr. Weiss. “I was tasked with determining what is the content of the driveway,” he said. He took core samples of the current driveway in three locations, he told the board. In one sample, he said, it was clear that there was indeed oil under the gravel. The other two samples were inconclusive, which Mr. Bennett attributed to wear and tear.
The zoning board agreed to close the hearing, and now has until May 27 to decide whether Mr. Preiato’s determination was correct.