East Hampton Village House Size Limits Adopted

Durell Godfrey

A month after the East Hampton Village Board faced a small army of attorneys and owners of large properties who were nearly unanimous in their fierce opposition, the board brushed aside a predicted legal challenge at its meeting on Friday and adopted amendments to its zoning code adding restrictions to the maximum allowable gross floor area and lot coverage of residential properties.

The board was acting on recommendations from the village's planning and zoning committee for a graduated formula for gross floor area and coverage on lots greater than one acre. The committee feared recent trends in development and redevelopment, if unchecked, would irreparably harm the character of the village.

Also adopted on Friday were amendments prohibiting construction of basements larger than a building's first-floor footprint and a definition of "story" in the context of structures.

Under the new legislation, a principal structure can be no larger than 7 percent of the lot area plus 2,200 square feet on one and two-acre lots. For lots greater than two acres, the new formula is 3 percent of the lot plus 5,400 square feet. The existing formula allowing principal structures to be 10 percent of the lot's area plus 1,000 square remains in place for properties up to an acre.

The new rules will restrict accessory buildings to 1 percent of the lot plus 600 square feet for lots from one to just under two acres, and .5 percent of the lot plus 1,000 square feet for those two acres and larger. On a two-acre lot, the maximum for all accessory structures would be 1,400 square feet. The rules for lots less than an acre will not change. Accessory buildings can take up 2 percent of the lot plus 200 square feet.

Maximum coverage, including all structures, which is now 20 percent plus 500 square feet across the board, is reduced to 15 percent plus 2,500 square feet for lots of an acre to just under two acres, and 10 percent plus 6,500 square feet for those that are larger. In addition, both the village and town have laws limiting residences to a maximum of 20,000 square feet regardless of the size of a lot.

Before adopting the new rules Friday, the board heard from the public one last time, and some of those that had appeared on behalf of property owners at the May 15 hearing reiterated their opposition, complaining of the reduced development and property values that they said would result.

John Bennett, an attorney, said he was representing three property owners. Scheduling a vote on the new legislation, he told the board, "says one of two things to me: Either they have decided, after so much opposition, that they're not going to adopt the law, or 'We're going to adopt this no matter what the public hearing brings.' "

"It is our finding that the proposed local laws were not contemplated adequately," said Charles Voorhis of Nelson Pope and Voorhis, a Melville consulting firm, on behalf of property owners. He complained that a need for the amendments had not been identified. The planning and zoning committee's study, he said, was neither representative nor accurate. He warned of a loss of tax revenue, economic stimulus, and jobs, particularly in the construction industry.

Linda Margolin, an attorney who had spoken multiple times at the May 15 hearing, spelled out how the legislation would affect larger properties. When she had concluded her remarks, Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. had a question. "In the interest of transparency," he asked her, "would you be willing to name the folks you represent?" No, was her pointed reply.

After the public comments, Richard Lawler, a board member, refuted some of the criticism. To those alleging that the board had not followed proper procedure, "We believe we have," he said. "We have reached out to surrounding communities. The feedback I've gotten is that none of these alleged economic downturns have occurred, in fact the opposite. And values have increased in one municipality I talked to. In general, I think people in that community are very happy that they followed through." He also said that the village's restrictions are milder than those adopted by other communities.

The board's action, the mayor said, "is in best interest of the larger footprint of the village." It was not taken lightly, he said, "but we feel it is the best method moving ahead." He predicted some type of legal challenge appealing the new legislation, but said that the village had received significant support of it, as well.

Moments after the meeting had concluded, Lys Marigold, vice chairwoman of the village's zoning board of appeals, was among a small group of residents that personally thanked the mayor for the board's action. Ms. Marigold had spoken at a hearing regarding cellars, warning the board of the greater intensity of population, use, noise, and vehicular traffic that the proliferation of larger and even multilevel subterranean habitable spaces inevitably bring.

Another resident, Joan Osborne, who attends most meetings of the village and zoning boards, agreed. "We all know what's happening to our village," she said.