Mansion plan riles residents in Wainscott

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Plans for a single house on a single lot are stirring up at least a few Wainscott residents as if a developer were going to dig up acres of farmland and cover it with a sprawling subdivision.

“I would say that in my tenure on the Planning Board, I have never heard from so many people from Wainscott,” said Town Planning Board member Bob Schaeffer last week as the board reviewed a proposal to build a single house containing 14,566 square feet of gross floor area on a 40-acre lot on Wainscott Hollow Road.

The house probably would be the second largest in East Hampton, according to chief building inspector Don Sharkey. He said that the biggest house he knew of is a 15,778-square-foot residence built in 1998 off Wainscott Stone Road in Wainscott. The Town Code allows houses to contain up to 20,000 square feet.

Mr. Sharkey said that the 40-acre parcel where the house is proposed to be built is the second largest single private parcel in town that he knew of, after the 70-acre former sand mine, known by local residents as “the pit,” along Montauk Highway in Wainscott.

The property owner is listed as 55 Wainscott Hollow LLC, and according to Mr. Schaeffer “everybody in Wainscott knows” that high-end contractor Jeffrey Collé is the principal of the corporation. Mr. Schaeffer has been a member of the board for more than two years. As a Wainscott resident, he is serving as the lead board member in reviewing the application.

Mr. Collé is listed in the application for a building permit as the builder for the project, but Mary Jane Asato, an attorney from Southampton who is representing the applicant, said on Tuesday that, as far as she knew, Mr. Collé is not a principal of 55 Wainscott LLC.

On behalf of the applicant, Ms. Asato submitted an application to the Planning Board on February 15 for site plan approval to build the house with a tennis court, a 30-by-58-foot swimming pool, a 1,124-square-foot covered porch, and a 160-square-foot pool house. Under the code, the board is required to review plans for any house to be built on a parcel of 10 acres or more in an agricultural overlay district.

“My guess is that this an ego build,” said Doreen Niggles, whose property on Sayres Path adjoins the eastern side of the parcel, during a Planning Board work session on April 16.

As part of the project, the applicant already has removed two houses and a group of sheds and other structures that were remnants from the property’s days as a working farm run by the Szczepankowski family. Ms. Asato said the land is leased and still farmed by Peter Dankowski, who lives nearby.

The property was bought by 55 Wainscott Hollow LLC in 2006 from Wainscott resident Ronald Lauder for $26 million. According to press reports, Mr. Lauder bought the property in December 1997 for $5.5 million from the Szczepankowski family.

Ms. Asato said that the applicant is planning to preserve a third house that dates back to the early 1800s, known as the David Edwards house, on the western edge of the property.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Ms. Niggles, a real estate agent, and attorney David Eagan both expressed concern about the development of the parcel and its impact on the area. They criticized a decision by the property owner to plant rows of mature evergreen trees near the northeast corner of the property as part of the project, which blocked their views of the open parcel and the view of six other homeowners who live on Sayres Path and whose properties border the site on the east.

“There is no justification in state law or in town code that would ever allow that screening,” said Mr. Eagan, who owns three parcels in the neighborhood. Mr. Eagan argued that the Planning Board should determine whether the screening is compatible with the proposal as part of its review.

Ms. Niggles and Mr. Eagan were the only residents who attended the work session to criticize the proposal, but Mr. Schaeffer later said in an interview that he had received five phone calls and two e-mails from people who were opposed to the project.

Board member Steven Green, who lives across the street from the property, criticized the planting of the trees, but he and other members of the board were unsure whether it was their responsibility to review that part of the project.

“I’m just thinking it was totally unnecessary for the applicant” to plant the trees, “and it was un-neighborly and antagonistic” toward the neighbors, Mr. Green said. “It just didn’t have to be done at this stage, but I’m not sure what we can do about that.”

Ms. Asato conceded that the trees were planted to block the property owner’s view of the neighbors’ houses, but described it as a private matter that should not be an issue for the Planning Board to consider.

“Even whether this is developed or not, one property owner has the right to screen out the other property owner,” she said.

But Ms. Niggles said, because she lives in an agricultural overlay district, she has to get permission from the Town Architectural Review Board to change the windows on her house. If the board is going to allow someone to block the view of her windows from Wainscott Hollow Road, she argued, the code’s requirement that she get approval to change her windows serves no purpose.

In a letter received by the Planning Board on March 19, Robert Hefner, the town’s historical preservation consultant, wrote that the two-and-a-half story Edwards house that is still on the property was probably built in 1802 and is “significant as one of a handful of 18th and early 19th century timber-framed farmhouses that survive in Wainscott.” He recommended that the town preserve the house in its current location by purchasing a historic preservation easement.

Ms. Asato said that her client was planning to preserve the Edwards house, ideally to be used as a guest house, but would move it to another location on the property.

But Mr. Schaeffer recalled that the Planning Board had been told at its previous meeting on March 5 that one of the houses on the property, which was built in 2000 and was torn down after the meeting in March, would be preserved.

“The applicant said, ‘Absolutely, we are planning to preserve that house, and it will be done,’” Mr. Schaeffer said. Within 48 hours of that meeting, Mr. Schaeffer explained, the house was demolished and removed from the property.

Ms. Asato defended the decision to demolish the house by explaining that the applicant expected someone to buy the house at the time of the last Planning Board meeting, but had seen the deal fall through afterward.

Although the applicant has not filed an application for a subdivision, Ms. Asato said that she was looking at various options for dividing the property to be able to build at most four houses. She said that the applicant would maintain 70 percent of the prime agricultural land on the lot, which cover the majority of the property, as an agricultural reserve, as required by town code.

Ms. Niggles and Mr. Eagan both said that the board should have considered the possibilities for subdividing the property during its review of the application, and Mr. Eagan argued that four parcels, each with a 15,000-square-foot house, might not be compatible with Wainscott’s character.

Although the board did not formally request any site plans for a subdivision, Mr. Schaeffer said on Monday that it “certainly could be a possibility” that the board would want to take into account plans for the entire property.

Sylvia Overby, the chair of the Planning Board, said at the end of the meeting that the board would

seek advice from Assistant Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato over whether the board should review the planting of the trees as part of the application.

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