First Mega-Mansion? Developer Seeks Supersized Spec House on Huntting Lane

Carissa Katz

An application for a 10,561-square-foot house in the Huntting Lane Historic District is “exactly the type of project the village had in mind” last year when it enacted new limits on floor area and lot coverage, the chairman of the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals said on Friday.

Frank Newbold’s blunt assessment of the proposed alterations and additions at 44 Huntting Lane, owned by Kean Development Company of Southampton, was followed by a litany of complaint from residents of the street’s 12 houses. They were even more direct, calling the proposed project “a spec house that is totally out of character,” the street’s “first mega-mansion,” and “a giant spaceship dropped among horse-drawn carriages.”

The proposal would need variance relief for 27.7 percent more floor area than the law allows, 23 percent more lot coverage, and a cellar that would extend beyond the exterior walls of the ground floor, also prohibited by a recent zoning code amendment. The subterranean space would include a two-lane bowling alley, a living room with fireplace, two guest bedroom suites, a recreation room, theater, powder room, and steam shower.

“It’s a big house,” Mr. Newbold said dryly.

Jon Tarbet, an attorney representing the applicant, agreed that the application was, “on its face, not the type you look favorably upon,” but asked the board to consider circumstances he called unique.

Kean Development Company purchased the property three years ago, Mr. Tarbet said, with a building permit already in place. While continuing to pay the fees required to extend that permit, the applicant created a new set of plans for the house, which the design review board approved, and applied for a building permit for the revised design. While that application was pending, Mr. Tarbet said, the zoning code was amended with the new floor-area and coverage formulas. The applicant was then “deemed to not have a vested right,” he said; the original building permit was revoked and the new permit application rejected.

Mr. Tarbet pointed out that the parcel, at 95,652 square feet, is three times the average lot size on Huntting Lane. “If you were to subdivide, you could — depending on whether you did two or three lots — get eleven or twelve thousand square feet of homes,” he said.

Larry Hillel, a board member, noted that the property is for sale. “It is for profit,” Mr. Tarbet said. The applicant has spent $600,000 on the project to date, he added.

Mr. Newbold detailed the substantial variance relief required for the floor area, lot coverage, and cellar, along with the amenities to be included in the latter. “As described, it would be the largest house on the block by far,” he said. “The intention of the law was to control the size of houses, particularly on these sensitive streets.”

“It’s not our preference to subdivide, but . . . if you’re trying to get a return on your investment, that’s the logical next step,” Mr. Tarbet responded. “He’s already been told by real estate agents that he could get more money by subdividing.”

“As far as scale, it’s not going to appear any bigger; in fact it will appear smaller” than typical Huntting Lane houses, he said, some of which are three stories high and larger than would be permitted under present zoning code.

After five neighbors spoke in forceful opposition to the application, one of whom read a statement from residents who are abroad, the property’s owner stood to address their criticism.

“I’m not here to destroy your street,” John Kean said. “We spent a lot of time and a lot of money trying to be in harmony” with the neighborhood, “understanding that we’re building a larger house than is typically built on that street. But we also have three times the lot size.” It was unfair, he said,  to deny him a 10,000-square-foot house on a 2.2-acre lot when one neighbor who opposes his application has a 6,000-square-foot house on a .74-acre parcel. “Fairness is important,” he said. “I’ve spent $600,000.”

Lys Marigold, a board member, suggested that his expenditure was “the cost of doing business.” “That’s a very unfair statement,” Mr. Kean shot back. “We take risks that are calculated. We don’t take risks that we’re going to have it pulled out from underneath us when we’ve gone that far down the line and spent that much money, and adhere to all of your codes. Fairness is something to be considered here.”

“As a businessman, I have an alternative,” he warned. “Either you can grant this approval and we can go ahead and build this house, or we’re probably going to have to subdivide,” which would result in more overall floor area than the proposed structure.

“I think the house is too big,” said John McGuirk of the board. His colleagues agreed, and the hearing was closed. A determination will be announced at a future meeting.

 

Determinations

The board issued eight determinations on Friday. Steven Spielberg and his accountant and trustee, Gerald Breslauer, were granted wetlands permits to allow removal of phragmites and other nonnative species, and to allow the removal of an area of lawn and the planting of a 25-foot-wide buffer of native grasses, at 110 and 116 Apaquogue Road respectively.

The board granted variances to allow a 360-square-foot expansion of the Devi Kroell store, at 23 Main Street, without the store providing additional parking spaces as required by code, provided that the applicant pay $60,000 to the village’s off-street parking trust fund and obtain site plan approval before a building permit is issued, as well as remove interior walls that created two bedrooms in an attic, which in the future must be used only for storage.

Andrew Wettenhall of 65 Toilsome Lane was granted variances to construct a swimming pool, pool equipment, and a generator within required setbacks on the condition that sound-baffling materials and vegetative screening are installed and two arbors are removed.

The unnamed owner of 8 Cooper Lane was granted variances to allow 232 square feet of coverage over the maximum, to allow a porch to be converted into habitable space within the front-yard setback, and to convert a garage to a pool house within required setbacks. A request to allow the installation of a swimming pool dry well within the side-yard setback was denied.

The board granted variances to the estate of Laura Roberts to allow the 40,100-square-foot lot at 19 Pondview Lane, which is in a district that was upzoned in 1987 to require 80,000-square-foot lots, to be eligible for a building permit for a single-family dwelling. 

William McCaffrey was granted variances to permit a generator to be installed, and an air-conditioner to remain, within required setbacks at 19 Cooper Lane. Thomas and Cynthia Pai were allowed to keep air-conditioning units and two sets of stairs within required setbacks at 7 Sherrill Road.