If you buy a small house as a year-round residence, should you be allowed to expand seven months later even if an expansion would violate the East Hampton Town Code? That was the issue in one of two applications for variances from residents of the Beach Hampton section of Amagansett before the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday. A third hearing was on an application from the clothing designer Cynthia Rowley, who owns a house in Montauk.
Bethany Mayer, a single mother, bought a two-bedroom house at 25 Wyandanch Lane in Beach Hampton in August. She told the board she wanted her only child, a girl who sat quietly in a stroller in the audience, to go to school in Amagansett. “It was what I could afford.” Now she wants to expand the house to accommodate her mother, as well.
The house is on a 4,000-square-foot lot, one of the smallest in town. Neighbors on both sides are just yards away, so the only direction possible for expansion is up. But, as Donald Denis, an architect who lives at 18 Wyandanch Lane and opposes the proposed 537-square-foot, second-floor addition, said, the addition would be in violate of the town’s pyramid law. The pyramid law limits how high structures can be near their property lines. It is intended to prevent buildings from looming over neighboring properties.
“East Hampton was the first town to have a pyramid law,” Mr. Denis said, calling it a model for many zoning codes in the state.
The owners of houses to the north and south of Ms. Mayer also attended Tuesday’s hearing, as did two other neighbors besides Mr. Denis.
The attorney representing Ms. Mayer, Andy Hammer, pointed out that the neighbor to the south, Jonathan Poole, had been a beneficiary of a pyramid variance. But when Mr. Poole addressed the board, he said, “My variance was so that you’d be able to stand in the shower.” The shower was in a second floor bathroom.
He went on to say that on the side of his house adjacent to Ms. Mayer’s “what we did was to cut the roof down. We did what we could to stay within the code. What you have before you here is completely different.”
Louis Aceri, another neighbor, said that Ms. Mayer should have been aware of the limitations on the property when she bought it. “If you grant this, my wife will have me back here asking for a garage,” he said.
Denise Schoen of Tarbet, Lester, and Schoen, who represented several of the neighbors, noted that the original owner, Paul Abia, had appealed unsuccessfully for smaller variances in 1982, first for a 900-square-foot house, then for one of 800 square feet. Eventually, he built the existing house, which measures 766 square feet. It did not need variances.
“The challenge before the board is to differentiate the decision of 1982, to approve a variance that it denied 30 years ago,” Ms. Schoen said yesterday.
When Ms. Mayer addressed the board, her voice broke as she tried to compose herself. “I thought, in my ignorance, that this would be enhancing the neighborhood,” she said.
Ms. Mayer bought the house in August 2011 for $690,000.
Although Mr. Aceri’s wife, Patricia, spoke to the board expressing strong opposition, she also said, “I just hope everything works out.” As she walked back to her seat, she touched the disconsolate Ms. Mayer on the shoulder.
The board voted to keep the record to open to allow Mr. Hammer to amend the current application, a move Ms. Schoen was not happy with. “I would have much rather have them rule on the application,” she said.
Ms. Mayer was seen leaving the hall, wheeling her child in the stroller, tears in her eyes.
The other application from Beach Hampton was from Dana and Andrew Stern of 8 Treasure Island Drive. They are asking for a 10-foot setback variance to put in a swimming pool and spa. It would be 20 feet from the property line rather than 30 feet as required. They also were represented by Mr. Hammer, who told the board that the difficulty the Sterns were having in placing the pool was the result of the house being bordered by three roads. “They have three front yards,” he told the board, saying the pool was intended for family gatherings. “It is not a luxury item,” he said.
Three neighbors appeared in opposition to the application, and alleged that the Sterns had not been good stewards of the neighborhood. For example, Betty Mazur said, “Overclearing has opened up the roads, and beach vegetation was cleared without code. The question here is, is this proposed project appropriate?”
Peter Gayer agreed. “What has happened, we now have four gravel parking areas,” he said. “It appears to be have been uncontrolled. I don’t want to say it’s ugly. If I lived in Queens it would be nice.”
A bone of contention was that neither of two property surveys submitted seemed complete. Joshua Jablons, speaking in opposition, said neither survey showed off-street parking. He also expressed concern about the relationship of the pool to the groundwater level.
The record will be kept open for an additional week to clarify the survey issues.
The final hearing was for a new house for Ms. Rowley, at 31 Ditch Plain Road, Montauk. She is seeking to replace an existing house with a larger one, which would total 2,012 square feet. Her application met with no opposition, per se, though one neighbor, Tom Dunfee, complained about Ms. Rowley’s hedges. He claimed they were on public land and obscured his view of the road as he pulled out of his driveway.