Forget Wetlands Setback, It’s the View

Neighbor versus neighbor at the Z.B.A. in dispute over plantings and trees

A recently planted row of trees that is obscuring a view of Hook Pond has caused a dispute between neighbors that played out before the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals on Friday. The trees also figure in an application before the zoning board from Paul Stallings, who had them planted after buying the property, at 10 Lockwood Lane, from his neighbors.

The trees had come to the village’s attention in July when Mr. Stallings was issued a notice of violation for planting them  within the 125-foot wetlands setback from the pond. He now seeks to legalize them and to clear vegetation and revegetate the area. At the same time, he is asking the board for variances and a wetlands permit to construct a second-story addition to his house and for a pergola over an existing brick patio, which would fall within the required 150-foot setback.

The board had little to say about the proposed construction; with the inclusion of the second-story addition, the house would remain well below its allowable floor area. But any questions members might have had paled on Friday when Mr. Stallings and his neighbors, the Ayer family, argued through respective attorneys and landscape architects about the view.

The Ayers sold the Lockwood Lane property to Mr. Stallings last year, maintaining an adjacent property at 81 Ocean Avenue. The trees, including a large red maple that was moved from another location on the property, largely obscure the Ayers’ view of the pond.

The row of trees was planted by Mr. Stallings to screen off the nearby Main Beach parking lot, William J. Fleming, an attorney, said. He noted that Mr. Stallings had agreed to move the maple, the tallest tree in the row, away from the property line as a courtesy to the Ayers.

 The applicant also would create a 20-foot buffer comprising native plants along the shoreline to filter groundwater runoff before it reaches the pond, he said. That area is currently lawn, and Mr. Fleming asked the board to note that Mr. Stallings does not apply pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides to the lawn, which could be detrimental to the health of the pond.

Jim Grimes, Mr. Stallings’s landscape architect, told the board that it “wasn’t really recognized at the time” that the row of trees would occlude the Ayers’ view. Along with moving the maple, “shrubs that are remaining there will adequately screen the Main Beach parking lot without impacting the Ayers’ view,” he said.

But Andy Hammer, an attorney representing the Ayer family, said he was “shocked” by the landscaping, which he called “unprecedented improvements, clearly designed to obstruct and create a visual buffer.”

Mike Bontje, a landscape architect appearing on behalf of the Ayers, showed photos of the Ayers’ view before and after the landscaping. “That view . . . is now blocked by plantings,” he said, including the two-story-tall maple tree and shrubs that are six to eight feet tall. The trees and shrubs block 80 percent of the Ayers’ view of the pond, he said. Mr. Stallings’s offer to move the maple tree and create a 20-foot buffer along the shoreline was “a good beginning,” Mr. Bontje said, “but inadequate to the task at hand.”

Alex Ayer then addressed the board. “My family, through my father and grandmother before him, have been enjoying this property and its spectacular view for well over 60 years,” he said. “I want to emphasize how much those plantings have obstructed this view.” Once enjoying a wide-open field, the property is now “completely boxed in,” he said.

But Mr. Fleming faulted the Ayers.  “If the neighbor had wanted a view corridor,” Mr. Fleming said, “they had control of the premises” and should have included a view easement over the property as a condition of the sale. He went on, saying that after controlling the property for 60 years, the Ayers “decided to be frugal about this, and take the cash from a sale of property not burdened by a scenic easement. When you make a decision, you have to live with the decision.”

After listening to the debate, Frank Newbold, the board’s chairman, turned the board’s focus to the wetlands. “Because of the wetlands setback, no one has a right to put any landscaping there, period,” he said. That said, neither of the neighbors’ landscaping seemed to satisfy the board. Mr. Newbold suggested that they try to reach a compromise, perhaps with the participation of Billy Hajek, the village planner.

The hearing was left open, and is tentatively scheduled to resume on March 10.

Two determinations were announced at the meeting. The board denied variances requested by Regina Starr to legalize a 257-square-foot addition to a house at 7 Collins Avenue that is 8.5 feet from the rear lot line where the required setback is 16.92 feet, and to allow  a floor area of 1,822 square feet where the maximum under current code is 1,443 square feet and the legally pre-existing floor area is 1,565 square feet.

The addition was constructed without a building permit, following the board’s 2012 denial of an application to build a smaller addition in approximately the same location. The board did, however, grant a variance allowing an entry deck to remain within the side-lot line setback.

Bradford Peck was granted variances allowing construction of a one-story addition to an existing residence at 5 Jericho Lane. It  will result in 16,020 square feet of lot coverage where 15,741 square feet is pre-existing and the maximum under the code is 15,511 square feet.