A shift in party control in East Hampton Town Hall and the new appointees that come with it can create unique circumstances for the town’s appointed boards to wrestle with, as the zoning board of appeals discovered on Tuesday night.
Stuart Grannen, the owner of 21 Fresh Pond Road in Amagansett, which is just shy of an acre, applied to the board last year for permission to tear down the house at his property and replace it with a new 2,435-square-foot, two-story house that would be 20 feet from the front property line where 40 feet is normally required. The house on the property now pre-dates the town’s zoning code.
The property abuts the South Fork Country Club Golf Course, of which Alex Walter, the board’s chairman, is a member, causing Mr. Walter to sit out on the hearing and later deliberations over the variance request.
With Mr. Walter out, the remaining four members split down the middle regarding the application. Since a majority vote of the full board is needed to approve any variance request, the application was denied in December.
The rubbing point for the two members who voted against the application was Mr. Grannen’s plan to demolish the existing house. By doing so, Lee White and David Lys argued, the board was bound by the town’s zoning code to consider the property as vacant and without a structure that was legally pre-existing and nonconforming.
When considered as a vacant parcel, the two argued, there was a building envelope on the site that was more conforming to the zoning code than the one chosen by Mr. Grannen.
The board’s new attorney, Elizabeth Baldwin, appointed on Jan. 2, was charged with crafting a document reflecting the board’s denial of Mr. Grannen’s request, on which board members would then sign off.
When the new Town Board took office, besides appointing Ms. Baldwin as the new attorney, it also voted to replace Mr. White, whose five-year term had expired, with Cate Rogers.
That meant that there was now only one member who could sign off on Ms. Baldwin’s draft determinimation, and two, Don Cirillo and Bryan Gosman, ready to sign in favor of the application.
The board looked to Ms. Baldwin for legal guidance, and based on that, members agreed to hold an entirely new hearing on the application, giving Mr. Grannen the opportunity to make his case before the new board member and allowing Ms. Rogers, now the board’s vice chairwoman, to be part of the deliberations before the board votes on the request.
This is Ms. Baldwin’s second go-round as the zoning board’s attorney. She first came to work for the town in 2004 and took over as the Z.B.A.’s attorney from 2006 to 2009. She was replaced when a Republican majority took over in Town Hall in 2010. Before returning to the town attorney’s office, she was most recently associate director and counsel to the North Shore Land Alliance, a land trust.