Tennis Court Raises Hackles

The tennis court is to be built on the former Gardiner estate, at 127 Main Street

In the heart of East Hampton Village, a plan to build a tennis court angered one neighbor and, when its proposed location was changed in response, drew an objection from another neighbor. The tennis court is to be built on the former Gardiner estate, at 127 Main Street, which is now owned by Shahab Karmely. His property and that of the first neighbor who objected, Kenneth Kuchin of 123 Main Street, are for sale.

The appeals board resumed a hearing on the application at its meeting on Friday. The initial location was on the west side (or back) of the 5.4-acre parcel, a deep lot that runs from Main Street to the John M. Marshall Elementary School’s playing fields. At the prior hearing, Mr. Kuchin worried about its proximity to a cottage he uses for meditation, massage, and reading. The new location, which is to the east, however, drew objection from Thomas J. Osborne, who owns adjacent vacant property. Both proposed locations would require setback variances.

“We did explore a conforming lot area and determined that it would have an unnecessary impact to the historic Gardiner house setting,” Andy Hammer, an attorney representing Mr. Karmely, said. He noted that the new location would spare several mature trees. The court must be built in a north-south configuration, according to the applicant, because an east-west layout would render it unplayable for most of the day due to sunlight.

Mr. Karmely “has been a very good steward to this property,” Mr. Hammer said, referring to the applicant’s reported $10 million renovation of the house and grounds. “This stewardship ethic is why we’re here asking for a variance rather than just trying to comply with the village zoning code.”

Referring to the potential for noise, Mr. Hammer said, “We’d submit there is much less, if any, disturbance” from what would be the backcourt area. The new plan would also sink the court four feet below grade and feature a Har-Tru surface to minimize noise. Adjacent lots are screened with hedges and mature landscaping, and Mr. Karmely would consider additional screening if the board deemed it necessary, Mr. Hammer said.

But Mr. Osborne’s objection was noise. The land he owns is vacant, but buildable. “We don’t have a house there; someday someone will,” he said. “We’re looking at it from the point of view of, ‘what would a reasonable person think of having the court where it is,’ and we think it would be objectionable.” The applicant’s proposed noise-mitigation measures would be insufficient, Mr. Osborne said. “I’ve played a lot of tennis in my time. I know the noise it creates.”

Regardless of the board’s decision, however, Mr. Karmely said that a court would be constructed because an east-west configuration, although less appropriate, would not require a variance. Therefore noise would not be eliminated if the application were denied, he said, although he added that in any case noise would be minimal. He also challenged Mr. Osborne’s concern. “Did you consider that when you subdivided your property and sold off a piece on which there is a big house right on your property line? That house . . . creates far more noise on a regular basis than a court that is screened and sunken and is played on occasionally would.”

Lys Marigold, the board’s vice chairwoman, said noise is a fact of life in the heart of the village. “I would actually want to consider moving it back to your original location, which is next to the playing field,” she told Mr. Karmely. John McGuirk and Larry Hillel, other board members, agreed.

Both the Gardiner estate and the Osborne family property go back to East Hampton’s original settlement. Of the Osbornes, Frank Newbold, the board’s chairman, said, “They have certainly paid their dues there.” The board’s purpose, he said, is to uphold standards. “Mr. Osborne feels there would be a strong impact on his building lot. In the rear location, Mr. Kuchin felt his meditation room would be disturbed. So we are in a quandary.” 

The hearing was closed, and a determination is expected at the board’s next meeting, on Sept. 12.