Squash Court Hits a Stone Wall

Hackles raised as Z.B.A. debates village code definition of a garage

       A squash court incited lengthy and sometimes animated debate at a three-hour meeting of the East Hampton Village Board of Appeals on Friday when the owner of property on Further Lane sought permission to construct one in the basement of a new 3,600-square-foot structure that is being called a garage.

           The anonymous principal of three limited liability corporations that own 174 and 176 Further Lane and 29 Spaeth Lane also plans to build a house on the property designed by the noted architect Annabelle Selldorf. A house at 174 Further Lane was torn down after its purchase for $28 million in 2012.

       The Z.B.A. has struggled before with the uses of garages, which are the only accessory structures permitted by the village code to be larger than 250 square feet. An earlier Z.B.A. debate about the definition of garages involved a lot of less than 10,000 square feet on Conklin Terrace. The three lots owned by the L.L.C.s contain more than seven acres.

       The meeting Friday was the continuation of a hearing on the applicant’s request for multiple side-yard variances and permission to raise an existing fence from four to six feet. Also on the agenda Friday was a controversial project to install communication antennas on an oil tank at Schenck Fuels on Newtown Lane. It is covered in a separate story on A3.

       On Friday, Jonathan Tarbet, 174 Further Lane’s attorney, told the board that plans had been modified to minimize the “aggressiveness of requested variances.” The site of the house has been relocated, he said. “Any affected neighbors are in support — north, east, and west.”

       “Doesn’t he own east and west?” Lysbeth Marigold, a member of the board, asked. “No, they’re owned by separate L.L.C.s,” Mr. Tarbet said, adding that the ownership was insignificant. Ms. Marigold rolled her eyes. “Okay,” she said. “Whatever you say.”

       Mr. Tarbet said the applicant had a building permit for the garage which was allowed to expire. In asking that it be renewed, however, “we were told that squash courts were not allowed in garages. The code didn’t change; I guess there was a change in the way things are . . . ,” he said, trailing off. Frank Newbold, the board’s chairman, finished the sentence. “Interpreted,” he said.

       Mr. Tarbet continued. “There is no detriment that anybody can think of from a squash court in a garage. . . . Virtually the entire village won’t know it’s there.”

       Mr. Newbold then said that the 120-by-30-foot structure’s blueprint includes a pool house, an unenclosed walk-through corridor, room for three cars, and multiple storage areas.

       It was designed and situated in alignment with an existing tennis court, Mr. Tarbet said. “It’s meant to work in conjunction with the entire property.”

       “Can I just have a reality check?” Ms. Marigold asked. “When the village code was written, I don’t think anyone envisioned a 3,600-square-foot garage with a squash court with a viewing stand. . . . I feel like I’m being gas-lighted here.”

       Mr. Tarbet insisted a squash court was “100-percent permitted,” but Linda Riley, the board’s attorney, called that assertion debatable. The legislative intent, Ms. Riley said, was to prohibit people from renting residential space and storing commercial vehicles in garages. The intent was not to prohibit someone from putting lawn chairs, pool equipment, or bicycles in a garage, she said. “But to extend that to a squash court of thousands of square feet is a different animal than having space for bicycles.”

       Although there is no limit in the village code on the size of a garage, Mr. Newbold said, “There perhaps should be.” His concern, he told Mr. Tarbet, was setting a precedent.

       “I don’t think anyone ever anticipated that a quote-unquote garage would be proposed to be the size of a tennis court,” Ms. Riley said. “Where does the detriment come from?” Mr. Tarbet asked. “Who does that hurt?”

       It hurts the village code, Ms. Marigold answered. “We said this two weeks ago . . . why couldn’t the architect build something that is in the spirit of the village code?”

        “Isn’t there a way to do this that requires fewer variances?” Mr. Newbold asked. “If we voted today, it would probably not pass,” he said. The board, Mr. Newbold told Mr. Tarbet, does not accept the contention that a squash court is permitted in a garage and thinks the structure is too large. 

       “I appreciate the architect wanted to match it to the same size as the tennis court, because architects like to match the front doorknob with the North Star,” Mr. Newbold said, but going from a 250-square-foot accessory building to a 3,600-square-foot garage is “a very, very big leap.”

       When the hearing was opened to public comment, Eric Bregman, an attorney representing Beautiful Joy L.L.C., which owns nearby property at 38 Two Mile Hollow Road, stood. Calling the application “the classic ‘I want everything,’ ” Mr. Bregman upbraided Mr. Tarbet. “Why not a basketball court, or a bowling alley?” he asked. “It could be any of those things, which clearly isn’t the intent.” Mr. Bregman said the oversized garage would have  a detrimental effect on the character of the neighborhood.

       At that point what had been a series of tense exchanges escalated.

       “Just to put it into context,” Mr. Tarbet said, he had opposed a 2012 application for variances for a pool, deck, and spa at 38 Two Mile Hollow. “Apparently, this is the payback.”

       Mr. Bregman stood and angrily complained about Mr. Tarbet’s statement. Mr. Tarbet, at the lectern, waved him off. “You’ll have your chance,” he said. “I know, ‘you’re here to protect the environment.’ ”

       “I’m here to protect the character of the neighborhood,” Mr. Bregman answered. “You’re being glib and cute, and it’s unappreciated.”

       “It’s also accurate,” Mr. Tarbet told the board. “When Beautiful Joy came to you. . . .” 

       “Why don’t we just not talk about Beautiful Joy,” Mr. Newbold interrupted. “We’ll see you in two weeks.”                                   The hearing was left open and will resume at the board’s next meeting, on Feb. 14.