Loida Lewis, the widow of America’s first African-American billionaire, appeared Friday at a meeting of the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals to request permits and variances for a construction project at her 165 Lily Pond Lane property.
She hopes to reconstruct and expand a lawfully pre-existing one-story cottage as an addition to the main house, connected at the second-story level and including a basement. Also sought is the continued existence of a 650-square-foot game room with half-bath that was converted from a garage, and 400 square feet of decking and stairs on its north side. The applicant would also like to replace a wooden retaining wall around a swimming pool with a new one of brick.
The zoning board would have to grant a coastal erosion hazard permit, a special permit, and area variances before the project can proceed.
Ms. Lewis’s late husband, Reginald Lewis, was the chief executive officer of Beatrice Foods International. The couple and their two children previously lived at Broadview, the 1916 mansion at the Bell Estate in Amagansett. It was destroyed by fire in 1991. Soon after, they bought the Lily Pond Lane house, which Ms. Lewis told the board they had wanted for several years. Mr. Lewis died in 1993.
John Courtney, an attorney who represents the East Hampton Town Trustees, is also representing Ms. Lewis in her application. The trustees are involved in litigation with some nearby property owners over boundary lines, but the improvements Ms. Lewis seeks to make, Mr. Courtney said, are on her property and not subject to trustee jurisdiction.
“I’m viewing this as a first step,” he told the board. “You’re going to want to know more about how we’re going to be constructing the addition.”
Considering the application’s three components separately, the board did not object to the in-place replacement of the wooden retaining wall. At over 600 square feet, however, the game room’s gross floor area is more than double the maximum allowed for accessory structures other than garages. Mr. Courtney acknowledged that the applicant had not applied for the necessary permit to change the use of the structure.
“The square footage pre-exists,” he told the board.
“There is no square-foot limit for garages, and there is for other buildings,” Linda Riley, the village attorney, pointed out.
The third and “most troublesome” question, said Frank Newbold, the board’s chairman, is the addition to the main house. “Initial impressions are, it’s very large,” he said. “Yes, it is a pre-existing cottage, but the existing cottage is one story, does not have a full basement.” The board, he said, would need a lot more information.
All the proposed improvements, Mr. Newbold noted, are seaward of the coastal erosion hazard line. “Our concerns are having such a large expansion so close to what is a sensitive dune area, how the construction is going to be done. There’s nothing in your architect’s rendering showing the depth of the basement, how it would be constructed.”
Mr. Courtney then introduced the architect, John David Rose. “Keep in mind that it is an existing footprint that we’re reusing, although we are pouring a new foundation,” Mr. Rose said. “The work would be happening from the landward side.”
The family, Mr. Rose said, “has a lot of grandchildren on the way. Currently, if family are staying in this space, they have to go outside to go to bed.” Connecting the buildings, he said, would eliminate that problem. “We’ve tried very hard to reduce the scope of this second-floor addition.”
Mr. Newbold said the board would want to see the protocol for construction and have the building inspector review it, “as we have done with other oceanfront applications.”
At that point, Ms. Lewis approached the dais. She said that she and her late husband had considered leaving the area after losing Broadview, “but we loved East Hampton.” She said the purchase of the Lily Pond Lane house was a “dream come true” for them.
“Twenty years later, I have three grandchildren, two daughters, and my youngest daughter is pregnant.”
She said that to her, Mr. Rose’s plans “looked so enticing, because now it’s one whole,” but that she had been advised the zoning board would have to approve. “And so, with great humility,” she asked that the plan, “with your modification, be approved.”
Mr. Newbold said the hearing would be held open until the board’s meeting of May 23.