Two proposed houses, in two different neighborhoods, had neighbors seeing red at public hearings during a marathon East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals meeting at Town Hall on April 16.
In both cases, the board concluded that the wisest path for the property owners might be to break bread with their neighbors, to see if a compromise could be worked out. And in both cases, the applicants offered compromises on Tuesday, although whether they would satisfy the opposition remains to be seen.
Steven Dubb bought a house at 142 Central Avenue in Beach Hampton in August. It was described by several speakers at the meeting as a dilapidated eyesore, looking more like a haunted house than a beach house, with doors askew, its deck collapsing, and overgrown shrubbery, as shown in photographs taken by Don Cirillo, a board member.
Mr. Dubb paid a little more than $1 million for the property after eyeing the land for several years. He had thought he would replace the house and then sell it for a profit. His plans changed, however, he said, when he fell in love and got engaged. Mr. Dubb, who was listed in Hamptons magazine as one of the East End’s 50 most eligible bachelors in 2010, is vice president of the Beechwood Organization, a family company that is a developer of houses and communities, both on Long Island and nationwide.
The property is on the corner of Central Avenue and Cliff Road, which, with Bayberry Lane on its eastern border, forms a large rectangular block lined with small houses, all of which surround a two-and-a-half acre wetland owned by the town.
The plans presented to the board called for replacing the single-story, 1,024-square-foot house with a two-story house of 3,060 square feet, as well as replacing an existing swimming pool and deck and removing a brick patio. In addition to a natural resources permit, variances would be necessary for the pool, house, decking, and septic system, because they would be closer to the wetlands than allowed by the town code.
The size of the new house, the placement of the septic system, and a proposed 150-foot-long retaining wall were all targeted by neighbors, with five letters received by the board in opposition and several neighbors showing up in person. The wall, they said, would exacerbate already bad flooding in the area after substantial rainfalls.
Rona Klopman, the president of the homeowners organization in the area, the Amagansett East Association, said it was constantly flooded, a fact apparently supported by photographs taken after rainstorms, as well as a 2010 e-mail from Scott King, then-town highway superintendent, in which he noted that the roadway directly in front of the property had been impassable for two weeks following a major storm.
Ms. Klopman also disputed a point made by Mr. Dubb’s attorney, Eric Bregman of Farrell, Fritz of Bridgehampton, that the size of the house was in keeping with the neighborhood.
“There are 315 homes in Beach Hampton, she said, calling the proposed size of the house totally inappropriate and saying that larger houses Mr. Bregman had referenced were on larger parcels.
Brian Frank, the East Hampton Town Planning Department’s chief environmental analyst, criticized the linear layout of the septic system, as opposed to the clover-leaf pattern usually installed in East Hampton.
“How do you answer the neighbors’ objection that this expansion, by almost three times the size of the house, won’t affect the character of the neighborhood?” Alex Walter, the board’s chairman, asked Mr. Bregman. “I disagree with you on a legal basis,” Mr. Bregman responded. “Is it too big? It is not. The legislature has said that it is okay.” He used the term “legal basis” several times, possibly intimating court action if thwarted.
Furthermore, he said the project would vastly improve the wetlands. He pointed out that the new pool would be farther away from the sensitive area and that the brick patio would be removed.
Mr. Frank argued that any possible benefits to the wetlands were outweighed by the project’s “aggressive” size and scope.
“My main concern are the flooding issues,” Louis Ferolito, whose house is diagonally opposite the Dubb property, said. “I can’t afford flood insurance anymore from the two claims I did have from water just penetrating and flooding” my house, he said. “I don’t want to live in Lake Ferolito.”
The planned retaining wall, which would line the property, would be as tall as three feet in some places. It is necessitated by the need to place the septic tanks above the level of groundwater.
“Flooding is worsening in Beach Hampton for a couple of reasons,” Mr. Frank explained. “This is an area that is close to sea level,” he said. When owners try to get maximum use of their properties and raise the grade level of the property, they increase the likelihood of flooding, he said.
“I am building a smaller pool, because we are in the dunes by the ocean,” Reiko Gomez, another neighbor, said. “That is kind of the agreement we have all made.”
At the end of the session, Mr. Walter suggested that the board could keep the record open for two weeks to allow the applicant and the neighbors to discuss possible changes. On Tuesday, Mr. Dubb turned in modified plans. “We met with three of the neighbors,” he said. “We have drastically reduced the size of the house and have taken it outside of the wetlands.”
He also said he had agreed to put up substantial screening in front of the retaining wall, although Ms. Klopman warned that the promised screening would be in the town’s right of way. “I feel we have met all reasonable concerns as best we can,” Mr. Dubb said.
On Crooked Highway
Earlier on April 16, on the other application that brought out a group of opposed neighbors, the board heard from Laurie Wiltshire of Land Planning Services, representing Juan Figueroa, who had initially applied for what appeared to be massive clearing of white pines on his three-and-a-half acre property, at 15 Crooked Highway. He proposed a 12,332-square-foot residence, a 9,500-square-foot reflecting pool, an 1,800-square-foot swimming pool, and over 4,000 square feet of decking and walkways.
Several neighbors were visibly upset with the proposal. However, Ms. Wiltshire said, the plan had already been radically scaled down. The house was now to be 10,260 square feet. The reflecting pool and decking were gone from the new plan, and the swimming pool was reduced in size.
Still, the neighbors expressed concern about the planned location of the house, only 35 feet off a common driveway that leads to Crooked Highway, as well as clearing of white pines. The setback of the house had been calculated from Crooked Highway itself rather than the driveway.
“To us, what we call Crooked Highway is what you call the driveway,” Susan Denenholz, a neighbor, said. “We have to go by how it is zoned,” Mr. Walter responded.
Ms. Denenholz called the house “wildly out of keeping with the character,” saying it would be more than twice the size of the others in the neighborhood.
Mr. Figueroa indicated through Ms. Wiltshire that he was aware of his neighbors’ concerns and would like to address them. The board granted Mr. Figueroa two weeks to meet with the neighbors, as it was to do later in the evening with Mr. Dupp.
Ms. Wiltshire and Mr. Figueroa were seen in the hallway outside the meeting room, blueprints spread out, discussing possible changes with the neighbors, for quite some time.
Then, on Tuesday, as in the Dubb matter, Ms. Wiltshire filed a plan again modifying the application, with the house being cut down 5,000 square feet and pulled back from the common driveway by over 100 feet.
The board is expected to rule on the applications within 62 days from Tuesday.