Big Fuss Over a Small Envelope

A house planned for this Edgemere Street, Montauk, parcel has drawn opposition from neighbors, who crowded a June 11 town zoning board hearing on the proposal. T.E. McMorrow

    A small building lot on an acre of waterfront property on Fort Pond in Montauk brought out a large group of neighbors at an East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on June 11.

    Timothy and Noell Twiggs, who own the undeveloped acre at 85 South Edgemere Street, had obtained several setback variances as well as a natural resources special permit in previous applications to the board. At their first hearing, in early 2012, no member of the public attended, a fact not lost on the board members.

    The Twiggs were granted the variances needed to build a 2,437-square-foot house with a 410-square-foot carport and 1,195 square feet of decking. Subsequently they sought to modify the original proposal by incorporating the carport into the house, creating more living space, which was okayed without a public hearing in October.

    “We have a lot of people here tonight; we had nobody at the first public hearing,” said Alex Walter, the Z.B.A. chairman, in explaining why the board had allowed the modifications without holding a hearing.

    The Twiggs had to return to the zoning board yet again because both town planners and their surveyor had not recognized that two more setback variances were needed. The overlooked variances are for a sideyard setback of 15 feet and a setback from the rear yard, which faces Fort Pond, of 11.6 feet.

    In the time between the granting of the carport modification and the realization that the setback variances were necessary, a neighbor, Laura Michaels, took legal action against the town, saying among other things that the earlier hearings had not been properly noticed to the public.

    Richard Hammer of Biondo and Hammer, representing the Twiggs, told board members they should consider only the specific variances now being requested.

    “This proposal has been before the board twice already,” he said. “It is sensitive to the community. If all the properties on Fort Pond had the same characteristics as the current proposal,” he said, the pond itself would be in better health. He was referring to the septic systems at neighboring houses, which he said were quite old and outdated.

    Neighbors, numbering about 25 — an unusually high number for recent Z.B.A. hearings — disagreed.

    Christopher D. Kelly of Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelly, Dubin and Quartararo, Ms. Michaels’s attorney, asked the board to consider the entire range of the project, and to take into account the fact that the town board had offered $500,000 to purchase the land from its previous owners. Mr. Kelly, a past chairman of the zoning board, encouraged the board to reject the application.

     “We’re reviewing only two requests for variances,” Don Cirillo, a member, told him. “Are you implying that we are supposed to review the entire proposal?”

    Mr. Kelly’s answer, emphatically, was yes.

    The board’s attorney, Susana M. Roxbury, did not agree that the board should weigh the town’s attempt to buy the property in its deliberations, warning that the Z.B.A. could put itself in legal jeopardy if it did so.

    Christopher Poli of Edgemere Street said the survey the applicant was using appeared to be incorrect, that the decking was larger than stated and closer to the wetlands. Initially, Brian Frank, the planning department’s chief environmental analyst, disagreed, but he changed his position after examining the survey with Mr. Kelly.

    Mr. Poli also pointed out that the plans for the house had gone from two bedrooms and two bathrooms to five bedrooms and five baths.

    Jeremy Samuelson, executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, in answer to Mr. Walter’s observation that no one had attended the first public hearing, agreed that the project had been growing incrementally since then. If the applicants had planned a five-bedroom house in the first place, he said, the reaction would have been quite different at that hearing. “This process has led us down a convoluted road,” said Mr. Samuelson. “Over time, this has grown big and has become something else. People have had the time to look around.”

    “There is no reason that this has to be a 3,000-square-foot house. There is a building envelope on this property and the applicant hasn’t demonstrated the hardship needed. The house as proposed is too large for this lot,” he concluded.

    With so many pieces of the puzzle not yet in place, the board agreed to keep the record open for another month, which will give Mr. Hammer time to obtain an updated survey and Mr. Kelly time to respond.