Mill Hill House Plan Scaled Back

The East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals

   Chris and Kristen Vila appeared before the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals on Friday with scaled-back plans for an addition to their house on Mill Hill Lane.
    Though far more amenable to the revised plans, board members expressed lingering skepticism and pressed the couple’s representatives for satisfactory answers.
    The Vilas, who have already begun work on their house, had sought variances to allow for significant changes as well as the construction of a 322-square-foot detached garage closer to the street than the house. Six neighbors submitted letters to the board objecting to their plans, and the board agreed that the modifications as proposed would not fit the character of the neighborhood.
    “The project has been revised significantly,” said Laurie Wiltshire of Land Planning Services, who represented the Vilas before the board on Friday. The proposed garage has been eliminated as have ground-floor additions to the side and rear of the house, and the second-story addition has been reduced. With the new plans calling for a gross floor area only 340 square feet larger than what is allowed, the Vilas would need a 14-percent variance from those regulations, as opposed to the 24 percent originally sought.
    “I want to remind the board that this project was given a building permit for renovations,” Ms. Wiltshire said. Regarding neighbors’ objections, she added, “we would like to respectfully note that only one of the six, Virginia Coleman, is an adjacent neighbor. In addition, two of the letters were submitted by individuals who had obtained variances to enlarge their own homes in a similar fashion to the Vilas’ revised application.”
    One of these neighbors, said Lysbeth Marigold of the board, lives on Borden Lane. “There are big lots and big houses on Borden Lane, so there’s no comparison,” she said.
    “That house was built before the comprehensive plan, as I recall. There was no [gross floor area] limitation when that house was built,” said Andrew Goldstein, the board’s chairman.
    “But they did come to the zoning board in 2002 and 2009 to expand beyond what the code allows, and then wrote a letter opposing our clients’ modest expansion,” Ms. Wiltshire responded.
    “The house we’re discussing this morning was already over the limits when it was purchased in January,” said Frank Newbold of the board.
    “That’s true,” Ms. Wiltshire conceded, “but they did pull that back significantly to the point where, when this project is finished, from the street the facade of this house will actually be smaller than what was there in the past.” Two neighbors to the rear of the house, Ms. Wiltshire said, have sent letters in support of the revised plans.
    “A zoning board does not substitute its own judgment for that of the neighbors,” Mr. Goldstein said. “We have granted variances in the face of neighborhood opposition, and we have denied variances in the face of neighborhood approval.”
    “Understood,” Ms. Wiltshire replied. “I think it’s significant that the immediate neighbors are not having a problem with this. Ms. Coleman wrote another letter, too. . . . She commended the Vilas on their reduction.”
    Bailey Heck, the architect overseeing the renovation, displayed a silhouette diagram depicting the house before and after its proposed changes. “It’s not very clear what the difference is,” he said, describing it as “so subtle.” The house had been arranged in a manner suitable to its former owner, he said. “The arrangement of spaces — in particular the clients’ desire to have two children down the road and have those children above the ground level — is the driver here. That’s how they feel safe and would like to live with their family.”
    Ms. Marigold remained skeptical. “We’ve had other applications for people who come into the village and wanted their dream house,” she said. “They want this, they want that, and everything. You want to say to them, ‘Buy somewhere else if you want all those things.’ ”
    But, said Mr. Goldstein, “we might be sympathetic” to an appeal for variances to accommodate a growing family, citing a house on McGuirk Street for which variances were granted.
    “We heard what everybody said, we scaled it back as much as we could,” Mr. Vila said.
    The board appreciated that effort, Mr. Newbold replied. “Our concern is really the massing from the street, and I think you’ve demonstrated the mass from the street is insignificant. Also, I think the house looks better now than it did in its previous incarnation.” He said that the board would likely have a determination at its next meeting.
    The board also heard from William J. Fleming, an attorney representing Andrew and Nancy Adelman of 14 Ruxton Road, who are seeking a variance to keep a second-floor office above a garage, with a bathroom, and variances related to a stone walkway, slate steps, a rock wall, and other improvements.
    The office and bathroom were above the garage at the time of the Adelsons’ 1999 purchase of the house, Mr. Fleming said, but “a portion of the two-bay garage downstairs was also converted to habitable space. This application is to regularize,” he said. “We would like to keep that [and] maintain heated storage space downstairs in a one-bay garage,” for storage of outdoor furniture.
    “It needs to be heated?” Mr. Goldstein asked.
    “Any accoutrements of habitability that were there are to be removed,” Mr. Fleming said. “It is just going to be a walled room. There’s not going to be TVs or anything in there. We ask that that be kept the way it is.”
    There are two problems, Mr. Goldstein said. “The first is this room on the first floor of the garage, and the second is the full bathroom on the second floor of the garage.” The shower would be decommissioned, Mr. Fleming said. 
    “That garage has two bays,” Mr. Goldstein said. “You want to essentially put a wall between the two bays.” The wall already exists, Mr. Fleming said, with the benefit being the ability to store anything, from the outdoor furniture to artwork from the house.
    “Why does that require a separate room?” Mr. Goldstein asked. “Why can’t it be in the second bay of the garage? You’re creating a very jury-rigged building.” The applicants, having purchased the property in its present state, had not acted improperly, he said, but a separate room in the garage, like a shower in the room above it, raises the question of whether it had been converted into a guesthouse.
    “The Adelsons have been caught, frankly, in buying a property that was illegally improved,” Mr. Goldstein said.
    “There was TV there, and a bed, and everything. It’s not as though it was just storage,” said Ms. Marigold.
    The applicants would gladly allow inspection by the building department, Mr. Fleming said. “The proposed use is for storage.”
    Mr. Goldstein was unmoved. “I hesitate to have the board create this jury-rigged building through a variance so you can store things in a separate room.”
    Mr. Fleming conferred with Ms. Adelson, who was present. He then asked the board if the entire wall had to be removed, or if an opening of some specification would be a satisfactory compromise while still allowing separation between the bay and the storage area. “It certainly wouldn’t be used as habitable living space,” he said.
    Mr. Newbold said that the board would likely permit the second-floor office with a half-bathroom, and if items to be stored were delicate, they should be stored in that room. “My sense would be to restore the garage back to the garage,” he said. He, along with Ms. Marigold, said that the wall between the garage bays should be removed.
    The board also granted special permanent area variances to allow Chabad House on Woods Lane to be used as an Orthodox synagogue with accessory structures including a ritual immersion bath, known as a mikvah, and a guesthouse. The variances were approved subject to the installation and maintenance of screening and fencing. At a hearing last month, two neighbors had objected to noise, strangers walking around the property, and congestion created by an overflow of cars parked on both sides of the street.