Yes to Robert De Niro, Questions on Ditch Plain

Robert De Niro appeared at a Sept. 26 public hearing before the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals. LTV

The Farrell Building Company’s plan to build an eight-bedroom, 4,627-square-foot house in the middle of Ditch Plain, a Montauk neighborhood known for its small lots and modest homes, has two neighbors seeing red.

The one-acre-plus property, at the dogleg corner of Caswell Road and Agnew Avenue, is one of the last undeveloped tracts in the Ditch neighborhood. In addition to the house, Farrell proposes to construct a 647-square-foot swimming pool and a small detached garage. Because the lot contains substantial wetlands — some 4,785 square feet — Farrell needs a special permit from the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals, which held a public hearing on the plan on Oct. 24. 

Farrell has agreed to create a 14,162-square-foot easement to protect the wetlands, and the State Department of Environmental Conservation and the East Hampton Architectural Review Board have already signed off on the plan, with the latter approval being needed because the property is in the Montauk Association Historic District. Just behind it stands one of the so-called Seven Sisters cottages, designed by McKim, Mead and White.

Katie Osiecki of Due East Planning, representing the applicant, told zoning board members that while swimming pools are unusual in Ditch, there are six in the neighborhood.

Lisa D’Andrea, the town planner overseeing the application, stressed the importance of the wetlands. Besides the area already documented, she said, there is another part of the lot that the town investigated as possible wetlands, though it fell short of qualifying. The presence of wetlands in Ditch is vital, Ms. D’Andrea said in her memo to the board, describing the property in question as typical of the area, where soil is hard rather than sandy, and drains poorly. Much of the runoff flows toward Lake Montauk, she noted, and increased development has led to higher nitrogen levels in the lake.

Maria Sidorff and her late husband, Michael Sidorff, built their house east of the Farrell property in 1968. They were public school teachers at the time. Ms. Sidorff, now an archaeologist, had just returned from Europe when she saw a sign on the neighboring property announcing the public hearing, she said, adding that she had never otherwise been notified of the Farrell proposal. 

Rick Whalen, the lawyer representing the applicant, said that notice had been sent to Ms. Sidorff via certified mail. That, it turned out, was the problem. The town has Ms. Sidorff’s Florida address as her mailing address. Because the letter is certified, and requires a signature, it was not forwarded to her Montauk address. 

Ms. Sidorff warned of flooding, which she said is prevalent in the neighborhood. Mr. Whalen countered that the undeveloped property is not in a flood zone. Ms. Sidorff also expressed concern that overdevelopment was causing degradation of water quality in the hamlet.

The neighbor to the west also spoke out against the proposal. Abigail Monahan told the board that her mother, Lili Adams, the owner of the Ditch Witch food truck, and her father, Thomas Monahan, were unable to attend the meeting, but wanted their objections heard. They were not against development of the property, she said, but felt that the proposed building envelope was far too large.

The zoning board agreed to close the public hearing but keep the record open for two weeks, to allow a more accurate survey to be filed.

Also on Oct. 24, board members approved Robert DeNiro’s plan to tear down his almost-3,000-square-foot Old Montauk Highway residence in Montauk and replace it with a slightly smaller modern structure. The property, almost an acre and a half, faces the ocean, and the existing house pre-dates zoning. Mr. DeNiro, the star of such films as “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” and “The Godfather Part 2,” needed a permit to proceed because of the proximity of bluffs. The two variances granted will allow the new house and decking to be closer to the toe of the bluff than town code allows.

Celebrities usually hide their identities behind mysteriously named limited liability companies, but not Mr. DeNiro. On Sept. 26, when the public hearing on his application was held, he walked into Town Hall accompanied by the architect, Pamela Glazer, and they took seats in the front row center.

Mr. DeNiro was not present on Oct. 24. Cate Rogers, a board member, said that his current house dates mostly from the 1950s and has cracks in the foundation, and called the new septic system, which will be installed between the new house and Old Montauk Highway, a “significant” improvement. She noted that the new structure will be as far from the bluff line as possible. Board members then instructed their attorney, Elizabeth Baldwin, to draw up an approval for the proposal.