Alex Walter, chairman of the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals, used a steady hand in navigating stormy seas in 2012, but one controversial decision appeared to be underwater after last week’s northeaster.
The thrice-considered revetment for property at the end of Mulford Lane near Lazy Point had generated much controversy on the usually even-keeled board.
Joshua Young and Christine Lemieux purchased the property in 2010, when water was already lapping near their house’s front porch. Years ago, neighbors remember, Mulford Lane used to extend out at least another 150 feet. There were additional houses, and a parking lot for residents of the neighborhood. All that is gone, reclaimed by the encroaching bay.
In September of 2011, the new owners went before the board, then chaired by Philip Gamble, for permission to build a stone revetment to protect their property. Town code prohibits stone revetments along the bay, so the couple needed a variance to build one.
The board at the time denied the emergency application, as the Planning Department weighed in, warning that allowing the revetment, along with tearing down and rebuilding the house on the property, would be tempting fate.
The couple returned to the board early last year, again requesting permission to build the stone revetment, but were again turned down. However, they did get variances to tear down the house and rebuild it farther from the water.
Sharon McCobb, a Z.B.A. member whose current term ended with the New Year, believed that the couple should have seen what they were getting when they bought the house. Mr. Walter expressed deep concern, at the time, over the precedent of allowing such a structure to be built.
“This would be the first in this area. There has been no granting of a hardened revetment,” he said at the time. “The neighbors on Bayview [an adjacent street] have a vested interest in this. They may want to come down here and ask for the same thing.”
Mr. Young and Ms. Lemieux found a strong advocate on the board in Don Cirillo, lone dissenter in the 4-1 vote against granting the variance to build the revetment. He argued that the couple should be allowed to spend their own money to build the sea wall if they wanted to.
The couple returned yet again in the fall with a revised plan for the 147-foot revetment, which, they said, was improved due to a new “U” shape that had it following the contours of the property.
This time, the board voted 3-2 to approve the revetment, with Mr. Walter casting the deciding vote, joining Mr. Cirillo and Bryan Gosman.
Before voting against permitting the revetment, Lee White warned that the board was setting a precedent, and argued that more natural solutions should be sought.
Much of the debate in November was shaped by the results of Hurricane Sandy. Ms. McCobb warned that the wall was going to end up in the water, as had happened to the houses that once stood seaward of the property.
Even though he voted to allow the structure to be built, Mr. Walter was clearly concerned by the pattern of damage from the storm. Water had flooded Mulford Lane, as well as the house, but that water had come in from the west, not directly from the bay to the north.
Mr. Walter and Ms. McCobb’s words proved prescient last Thursday, as the northeaster moved away. The current house, located where the wall would be built, was surrounded by water. It looked more like a boat than a house. For the second time in two months, much of Mulford Lane was flooded by water moving in from the west. The Young and Lemieux property was underwater.
Last year saw several other board decisions on controversial applications.
One that could have major financial implications for the landowner is the 4-1 vote by the board, with Mr. Cirillo dissenting, to deny a special permit for a pair of what appeared to be retaining walls that the board determined had been built over dune land at 278 Further Lane. Shortly after acquiring the property, along with two other parcels, for a record $103 million, the owner, Ron Baron, had built the walls despite receiving early warning that they might violate town law.
Mr. Baron has since received permission from the town’s planning board to combine the properties at 260 and 278 Further Lane into one lot, then redivide the land into six lots, with three of them having an ocean view. On those three ocean-view lots, Mr. Baron would be allowed to build multiple houses, up to six total across the three, creating what one prominent real-estate broker called “compounds.”
The value of such unusual properties could skyrocket in the restricted East Hampton market.
However, it is not clear whether Mr. Baron will be able to proceed with that plan, now that the retaining walls at the property in question have been found to violate town code.
Several of the decisions by the board this year involved the town’s chief building inspector, Tom Preiato, with whom, by the end of the year, the board seemed to establish a working pattern.
A key moment may have been when the board unanimously dismissed a request from Mr. Preiato to reverse a certificate of occupancy issued by his predecessor Don Sharkey, for two stone pillars and gates at 17 Beverly Road.
“Normally, the building inspector issues a revocation, then brings it to us for confirmation or denial. That wasn’t done here,” Mr. Walter said on Oct. 9, adding that the board did not have standing to instruct the building inspector on what he should do.
Another controversy that was coolly dispatched with was over the Surf Lodge, the Montauk nightclub sitting on Fort Pond that generated much community opposition in its first couple of years of existence. In 2012, a new management team, lead by the sole holdover from the old team, Jayma Cardoso, the club’s host, tried to put its ducks in a row for the waterfront restaurant by settling all outstanding issues with the town, the biggest of which was a lawsuit by the town over numerous citations for code enforcement violations.
Many of these citations stemmed from a determination made by Mr. Preiato’s office that a dry bar on the property constituted an illegal expansion of use, prohibited by the town code.
The board ruled 4-0 (Mr. Gosman had recused himself) against Mr. Preiato’s determination, holding that the bar was, in fact, a temporary structure, because it could be wheeled away, and the town soon settled its lawsuit with the club, for a record $100,000.
In Wainscott, the board agreed to uphold Mr. Preiato’s ruling that a project on Montauk Highway known as Wainscott Wombles could include both a business and a residential space, contrary to town code. That board ruling is being challenged in court by David Eagan of Eagan and Matthews.
Also, the board disagreed with Mr. Preiato when he determined that a barn in a residential zone on Abrahams Path in Amagansett was actually a business that pre-existed zoning, which would allow it to be used as such.
“There’s not a scintilla of evidence” that the barn had been used as a business throughout the years,” Mr. Cirillo said when reviewing the matter, and the other board members agreed, voting 5-0 to reverse the inspector’s determination.
Ms. McCobb’s term is the only one that has expired. New appointments or reappointments are to be made at the town board’s reorganizational meeting today at 10 a.m.
The starting time for zoning board meetings in 2013 will be 6:30 p.m., an hour earlier than in 2012.
Early 2013 looks to be a busy time for the board, with between four and six public hearings scheduled on most meeting nights, which are always on Tuesday.