Stumbling Blocks at Pond

The owners of a more than five-acre parcel in the Georgica Association on the Wainscott side of Georgica Pond went before the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals on March 4, seeking variances that would allow them to subdivide it into two buildable lots. Whether the board will approve the  requests may hinge on two things: The property has been almost entirely cleared of natural vegetation and, in an unusual arrangement, the applicants, Florence and Ken Joseph, own the land but do not control three of the four residences on it.

“We have a unique 5.6 acres. It is one of the largest improved properties on the pond,” Christopher D. Kelley of Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo, said at  the beginning of the hearing. The property complies with the area’s five-acre zoning, measuring 244,841 square feet, but, if approved, the new lots would be of only 67,923 square feet and 137,374 square feet.

The lack of natural vegetation there stands out in stark contrast to neighboring properties, as seen in aerial photographs viewed by the board. The Joseph property, they noted, is almost totally cleared to the point of looking like a golf course.

According to Brian Frank, the chief environmentalist for the East Hampton Town Planning Board, the clearing exceeds the maximum allowed in the town code. The newly created smaller lot would be over-cleared by over 48,000 square feet, the larger lot by over 95,000 square feet, he wrote in a memo to the board.

Mr. Frank’s primary concern was the impact on Georgica Pond. “The importance of natural vegetation can’t be overstated as an environmental tool,” he said, noting that the pond is now an impaired water body. He cited a recent study by Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University, undertaken for the East Hampton Town Trustees. “It does appear that despite the town’s efforts, the water quality of Georgica Pond is trending in the wrong direction.”

The four residences are two cottages of 600 and 625 square feet, a boat house with a kitchen at 2,200 square feet, and a two-story 10,000 square foot house. There is also a swimming pool. The applicants are proposing to remove the cottages and the boat house, while maintaining the larger house on the larger lot. The smaller lot would remain undeveloped at first but it would be legal to build a new house there.

The property lies in a harbor protection overlay district, and Mr. Kelley told the board the proposal would be of “a great value to the town” because of the proposed removal of the structures. He explained that the use of the cottages, boat house, and swimming pool is controlled by the property’s former owner, Clifford Klenk Jr. Mr. Klenk sold the property to the Josephs in the 1990s, but retained the right to live there for the rest of his life. He uses the boat house most of the year, moves to one of the cottages for the summer, and then rents the other cottage as well as the boat house.

Cate Rogers, a board member, was taken aback, asking Mr. Kelley if none of the proposed changes would occur until Mr. Klenk died. Mr. Kelley offered that the Josephs might be able to buy out Mr. Klenk’s right to use the buildings. This caused Alex Walter, the board’s chair, to inquire about Mr. Klenk’s health. Mr. Kelley said it was fine, as far as he knew.

Neighbors of the proposed subdivision saw little good about the proposal. They were represented by Theodore Sklar of Esseks, Hefter & Angel. He also drove home the extensive clearing, translating Mr. Frank’s numbers into percentages, and saying the new lots would exceed the legal maximum by 268 and 343 percent.

“There is no contest here,” the attorney said. “The detriment clearly outweighs any benefit to the applicant, which is purely pecuniary. Should you rezone the property?” he asked, and he called doing so “rezoning by variance.”

Don Cirillo, another member of the board, had earlier questioned Mr. Kelley as to whether he was asking the board to, in effect, rezone the property. He had also pressed Mr. Kelley on the exact reason the applicants were before the board at all. Mr. Kelley responded that the applicants were making an effort to reduce density, a point Mr. Sklar later challenged, questioning the definition of the word.

One of the four neighbors Mr. Sklar represented, Julia Murphy, also spoke, expressing concern about how development of the two new lots would impact the house she had stayed in since her mother bought it in 1965.