Board Eyes Trucks, Volleyball

    In addition to a proposal that East Hampton Town establish a rental registry, which is covered separately, two other regulations to address problems in residential neighborhoods were discussed this week by the town board. One involves trucks parked on house lots; the other whether permits should be required for backyard sporting events.

    While commercial activities are outlawed in residential neighborhoods, “light trucks” are allowed to park at residences, as well as commercially registered cars. Complaints have proliferated about businesses being run out of houses, with residences as a home base for heavy equipment and trucks. Patrick Gunn, a town attorney who is head of the Division of Public Safety, has told the board that because the code does not specifically define the term light truck, the Ordinance Enforcement Department has difficulty successfully citing alleged violators.

    Mr. Gunn has been asking the board to draft legislation defining the term for months. A discussion Tuesday of that definition — likely to be based on gross vehicle weight — bogged down, as it has before, on the question of what impact enforcement would have on those now using their residential lots as a home base for commercial vehicles.

    Suggesting that it would create an unacceptable hardship, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley asked the Planning Department to give her a list of all the properties in the town where zoning would permit those businesses to relocate, and their current status.

    Councilwoman Sylvia Overby noted that some years ago a new zoning category called “service commercial” was established to provide locations where businesses often based at owners’ residences, such as landscaping, plumbing, or other contractors’ trades, could be established legally.

    The question, Ms. Quigley said, is whether “we will have a town that accommodates local businesses or whether we’re looking to have a sanitized community where nobody’s bothering anyone else.” She decried an opinion she said she had heard expressed, that East Hampton is a town for second-homeowners.

    “It has to do with neighborhoods,” Ms. Overby said. She went on to say there had been specific reasons for placing businesses in proper zoning districts, including the ability to enforce safety standards regarding, for instance, the storage of pool chemicals. “When a business grows, they’re supposed not be in a neighborhood any more,” she said.

    “To me, sanitizing our neighborhoods . . . amounts to getting rid of the ability of one to earn a living,” Ms. Quigley said. “I’m against that.”

    “This is already legislated; it just hasn’t been enforceable,” Mr. Gunn said. The town code, he reminded the board, “already prohibits the carrying on of business” in a residential area, outside of a few activities deemed “home occupations.”
    Specifically defining a light truck would not set new, more restrictive rules but only address an omission that makes it difficult for ordinance officers to cite people who park commercial vehicles where they are not allowed.

    If the town is going to say that business owners can’t park large trucks in their backyards, Ms. Quigley said, “then we have to be prepared to, either seeing to it that there is a spot, or that those businesses are not going to be in our municipality anymore. I’m not suggesting that the board provide [new locations for the businesses],” she said. “Just that the board understand the ramifications of our decision.”

    “We could take the first step or we could sit on our hands until we deal with the big planning issues,” Councilman Dominick Stanzione said. He suggested moving forward with “giving code enforcement tools to enforce the code,” by adopting a light truck definition. 

    Another potential law, designed to rein in repeated group athletic activities in backyards, such as volleyball games, is to be discussed by the board at an upcoming meeting. But this week John Jilnicki, the town attorney, distributed for review a law that would limit gatherings of more than 15 people to no more than three per month.

    It was designed, he explained on Tuesday, to “recognize that residents sometimes go beyond ‘reasonable use’ of a property, impacting the neighborhood.” While the town requires a mass gathering permit for get-togethers of more than 50 people at houses, where parking will be along the street, nothing limits smaller parties. A Springs resident recently complained to the board of weekly sporting events at a house in her neighborhood.

    “So I can’t have 20 people to the Book of the Month Club?” Supervisor Wilkinson quipped Tuesday. He expressed concern that any new restriction might be unevenly applied to different groups, based on complaints.

    “I’m responding to a constituent’s complaint,” Ms. Quigley said. She had asked Mr. Jilnicki to come up with a draft ordinance. She had also asked town staff for information about existing public sporting facilities, or where new ones could be placed.