As East Hampton Village officials prepare to give 25 historic timber-frame buildings special status that would allow their owners to build a second dwelling on their properties, the village board heard comments Friday on a separate proposed zoning code amendment that would repeal a limited exception allowing second houses on other large properties in the village.
The zoning code has long allowed a second dwelling on a lot large enough to be subdivided, provided the second house was for “domestic employees or members of the household of the occupant of the single family residence.” The house, if newly built, must conform to all setbacks that would be applicable if the property were divided in two.
“In the decades since this provision
. . . was first introduced into the code, a considerable amount of development and redevelopment has occurred, producing more crowding of buildings and traffic congestion, and significant changes in the character of the neighborhoods,” according to the proposed amendment.
Given the lengthy deliberations on the consequences of timber frame landmark designation and a controversial application by one Main Street couple to build a second house on their property — a move the village is trying to prevent — Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. prefaced the hearing on Friday by saying, “We will be taking no action at all on this. There will be further discussion and deliberation.”
The exception in the zoning code, he said, is inartfully worded, grammatically confusing, and produces conflicting opinions on its very meaning, said Anthony Pasca, an attorney with Esseks, Gefter, and Angel, who represents Gordon and Amanda Bowling. Mr. and Ms. Bowling “asked me to come and express their support for your proposal to eliminate this exception,” Mr. Pasca said. “The bigger-picture question, though, is whether this provision has any use or utility in your modern code,” he said. “The reality is that this is an anachronistic vestige of a code that doesn’t exist anymore.”
The Bowlings’ house is adjacent to that of John and Suzanne Cartier, who are engaged in a long effort to move their existing house, add 182 square feet to it, and construct a second house of similar size on the property at 105 Main Street. The village sought a temporary restraining order to stop them from doing so; it was denied on Dec. 13.
Mr. Pasca, who also represented owners of one of the proposed timber-frame landmark houses, referred to that legislation and the zoning bonus it would confer on the affected properties’ owners. “A letter went out to those people
and it says, ‘You would be the only people in the village entitled to a guesthouse. It’s a unique benefit to you.’ The problem is, as long as this quirky loophole exists, that’s not true. Other people can try to take advantage of guesthouse rules without having to comply with even the same standards that the timber-frame landmark owners would have to comply with. If you’re going to be true to them and confer that kind of benefit on them of having this guesthouse right, then you should close this loophole.”
Mayor Rickenbach said that the board would hold the hearing open until Jan. 18. “And please recognize, we understand that this is a very sensitive subject. We’re trying to deal with it in a uniform, constitutional basis,” he said.
The board also heard on Friday from two members of the Ladies Village Improvement Society. Dianne Benson, chairwoman of the society’s Nature Trail committee, discussed a proposed kiosk to replace present signs at the 28-acre preserve.
“We find that the signage and the accessibility of information at the Nature Trail is awful,” Ms. Benson said. “All it says is ‘No this, no that, no something else, don’t let the rats get the food, no.’ ” Instead, she proposed a kiosk featuring several panels that would describe the type of waterfowl there, what food is appropriate to feed them, and other facts.
“Instead of approaching it with a ‘no,’ we approach it with a ‘yes’ kind of attitude. All this is going to be done in very few words,” she said.
Ms. Benson showed the board a mockup featuring a kiosk presently standing on Three Mile Harbor Road superimposed on a picture of the Nature Trail’s entrance. “We think that this would make it more welcoming and representative of the village,” she said, adding that, if it is approved, the L.V.I.S. would pay for its construction. The 16-member Nature Trail committee, she said, would create the content for the kiosk’s panels.
“Dianne, I think you’ve hit a home run this morning,” said Mayor Rickenbach. “I think it’s a wonderful gesture, a nice, natural evolution with respect to the signage that’s there and what will come. We’ll take it to the next step.”
Colleen Rando, the society’s secretary, came bearing gifts: a copy of the history of the L.V.I.S. from 1895 to the present that she wrote. The book contains personal reminiscences, letters, and newspaper and magazine articles, she said. “I think they capture the spirit of the 21 women who founded L.V.I.S., and all the ladies who have followed,” she said.
“Since the village was incorporated in 1920, L.V.I.S. and the village have enjoyed a unique public-private partnership,” she said. “Our joint efforts in the care of village trees, greens, and other projects have preserved our lovely village for future generations. In honor of our special relationship and in appreciation for your important role as stewards of East Hampton, I’d like to present each of you with a copy and wish you, from all of our L.V.I.S. members, a very happy holiday.”