Year of Challenges for Planners

Complicated applications led to some controversial decisions in 2012

    The East Hampton Town Planning Board returned for business last night with the same members as in 2012, the town board having reappointed Ian Calder-Piedmonte as a member and Reed Jones as chairman for the second year. Nancy Keeshan was appointed as vice chairwoman, replacing Diana Weir, who will remain as a member. Members serve a seven-year term.
    Last year had its dramatic moments, with several decisions still facing uncertain futures, but throughout the year the tone of the board was civil and calm, led by the chairman. Mr. Jones  was a football player in college and a captain in the Marines, but he is arguably the softest-spoken person on the board, leading by quiet example.
    One of the board’s earliest challenges in 2012 came at the beginning of the year as members debated the future of a building at Sayre’s Path and Montauk Highway in Wainscott. The owner of the property, Michael Davis, argued that it was entitled to a dual usage, meaning it could contain both housing and a business. The property, although zoned for residential use, had a business standing on it.
    Tom Preiato, the town’s head building inspector, had ruled that it was entitled to the dual use. However, David Eagan, the attorney for Concerned Citizens of Wainscott, argued that the property must revert to residential use only, that it was not entitled to dual usage, and that in any event Mr. Davis had abandoned  the right to use the space for a business.
    The board, however, ruled for Mr. Davis, allowing him to move ahead with his plan to build a business and erect a separate 600-square-foot house on the same piece of land. Mr. Eagan then took the matter to the zoning board of appeals, which again ruled for Mr. Davis. The case is now up on appeal before the State Supreme Court, which is waiting to hear from Mr. Davis’s attorney, Denise Schoen. In the meantime, construction has begun on the business only, at least until the matter is cleared up.
    Wainscott was the scene of another major planning board decision last year. Gregg Saunders of Sagaponack had proposed building a 17,500-square-foot hub store on the old Plitt Ford property on Montauk Highway. His goal, the developer told the board, was to attract a food market such as Whole Foods, a company he had built stores for before.
    There was little opposition to the plan, although nearby residents did express concern over traffic issues, and in the end the board approved it. Not long after, Mr. Saunders was killed in a two-car accident not far from the site of the proposed building, and the project now faces an uncertain future, with a sign on the property advertising its availability.
    By far the largest project the board debated over the year was the proposed subdivision of land owned by Ron Baron at 260 and 278 Further Lane in East Hampton. Its future, too, is iffy.
    Mr. Baron proposed to make the two properties into one, then divide the single property into six lots, two of which would be restricted in perpetuity for agricultural use and one, being duneland, to remain vacant. The remaining three lots, each about three acres with broad ocean views, would be developed with up to six houses.
    Multiple houses on single lots are quite rare in East Hampton. Mr. Baron had to agree to pay into the town’s affordable housing fund in order to proceed.
    The planning board approved the proposal. However, there is a hitch: Mr. Baron had built a set of double walls across what the zoning board deems to be duneland, and that board has ruled the walls to be in violation of the town code. Mr. Eagan, who represents Mr. Baron in the matter, said recently that he did not believe the Z.B.A. ruling would prevent Mr. Baron from going ahead with his plans.
    The planning board did have its discordant moments. One such came late in the year, when the town board requested its input on a proposal to rezone the land on Napeague where Cyril’s Fish House has long operated. Over the years the restaurant has become wildly popular, forcing traffic almost to a standstill on summer evenings. Code enforcement inspectors have repeatedly cited the restaurant for violations.
    The plan was to combine the land with a lot to the west and rezone it from residential to business — the first step on the way to bringing the entire parcel into conformity with the zoning code. Both lots are owned by Michael Dioguardi, who leases one of them to Cyril Fitzsimons.
    The board debated the issue over two sessions, with some members expressing alarm over traffic and sanitary conditions and others arguing that the site was always a business, not suitable for residential use. In the end, the board split 3-3, with Patrick Schutte not present. Members agreed afterward, this time unanimously, to inform the town board of the reasoning on both sides of the matter and let it decide.