The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals gave a Wainscott property owner unanimous approval Tuesday night for a second house on a single property, an apparent first since two houses on one site are prohibited by the town code. Members not only approved the proposal but praised it, although one, Don Cirillo, questioned the sincerity of one of the applicant’s stated goals, the preservation of a historic farmhouse.
Jeff T. Blau, the chief executive officer of Related Companies, which Wikipedia calls the largest developer of luxury residences in New York City, bought two adjoining parcels on Five Rod Highway, a town trustee road off Wainscott Main Street, in the summer of 2012 for about $25 million. He plans to create what will essentially be a three-house compound there.
The smaller lot is 2.7 acres and has a house on it which is to be torn down and replaced with a much larger one. The larger parcel, which contains the farmhouse, is largely an open field of just under 11.8 acres. Mr. Blau will build an even larger house there, on the southeastern corner of the property, forming a triangular cluster of three houses. This house will require its own variances, but on Tuesday the board was only considering whether to allow two houses on the larger of the two lots.
Denise R. Schoen, an attorney for Mr. Blau, told the zoning board during an April 1 public hearing that the old house belonged to the Wainscott Topping family and dates to as early as 1660. It is to be moved to the northeastern corner of the property, where it will become a guesthouse, with a section converted to a gym and a tennis court, pavilion, and walkways surrounding it. Ms. Schoen told the board that the house would be preserved for future generations.
Although Mr. Cirillo voted with the majority, he pointed out Tuesday that the house would not be visible from nearby roads. Nor was it to be open to the public. “Better than nothing, I suppose,” he said. “I am not so sure that turning it into a gym is preserving it. I think it would be a nice gesture to allow people into the house once a year.”
Bryan Gosman asked his fellow board members Tuesday if the owner could “mow down the house” at a future date. Cate Rogers, one of the board’s newer members, gave him an emphatic yes.
Although an application to build a second house on a single property has rarely, if ever, been seen in East Hampton, both the town’s lead attorney, Elizabeth Vail, and the attorney for the Z.B.A., Elizabeth Baldwin, said on Monday that such a request was legal.
The 11.8-acre parcel was part of a larger Topping parcel that was subdivided in 1983. Because it is now zoned for five-acre minimum house lots, Mr. Blau’s desire for two houses might have been achieved through another subdivision. However, the land is also in an agricultural district where 70 percent of the land would have had to be set aside. Mr. Blau has promised to leave 70 percent of the lot open in return for the second house.
Alex Walter, the board’s chairman, called the property dazzling on Tuesday. “It is an excellent proposal. I am very much in favor of preserving this historic house,” he said.