East Hampton Village Trustees reverse stand on exemption for library

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The East Hampton Library is back to wondering if it will be required to seek a lot-coverage variance before it can proceed with plans for a new children’s wing.

The library was hoping the Village Board of Trustees would exempt it from any requirement for a variance. But only a month after having proposed it, the Village Board on Thursday unanimously voted not to change the zoning code to clarify the rule that paved driveways and parking spaces must be included when calculating lot coverage for special permit applications. They also voted down a proposal that would have excluded the East Hampton Library from the requirement.

Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach said the board had voted down the proposals because it didn’t want to be seen as taking sides in the debate over the library’s plan to add children’s wing to the building. Only last month, the board appeared to have been in favor of granting the exemption for the library and voted unanimously to schedule the proposal for a hearing.

But the board, with its vote last Thursday after the hearing, switched gears.

“The board was in an untenable position,” the mayor said after Thursday’s meeting. Had the law with the exemption been passed, “the only beneficiary would have been the library. All things considered, we wanted to maintain the high road.”

Deputy Mayor Barbara Borsack said the proposed zoning code change had turned into a kind of referendum on the library’s expansion. “By including the exception for the library, we thought we were staying neutral on the issue of the library’s expansion, but it didn’t turn out that way.”

Had the requirement been passed without the exemption, the lot coverage for the library’s 6,802-square-foot 
addition would have exceeded the 
maximum amount of lot coverage allowed. The library would have been 
required to seek a variance, which library officials have said would be 
difficult to get and essentially would have killed the children’s wing.

The issue first arose when Code Enforcement Officer Tom Lawrence, after checking the library’s latest survey, wrote the ZBA in August to say that the library had excluded certain existing “grass parking spaces,” and paved spaces, as well as the library’s circular driveway, from its calculation of lot coverage. He told the board they should be included in the library’s calculation before a review of its application should proceed.

The library formally protested, saying St. Luke’s Church had not been required to count such spaces when it sought permission for an expansion.

As it is, the library is seeking only a “special permit” from the Appeals Board, which is required to allow the expansion of non-conforming structures in a residential zone.

Some resolution may yet come from the Village Board. It agreed Thursday to continuing discussing the issue of whether to include driveways and parking lots when calculating lot coverage at its next work session December 4. Included in that discussion will be the definition of what a structure is. The code is unclear on whether driveways or parking spaces are structures.

“I’d like to go back to that issue of structure,” said Ms. Borsack. “We do need to clarify that in the code—the whole definition of structure.”

The library’s attorney, William W. Esseks Jr., said Tuesday it was now up to the appeals board to decide whether or not to apply the lot-coverage rule in the library’s case. If it did so, he said, the board would certainly lose any court challenge because of the previous exemption for St. Luke’s Church.

Doreen Niggles, Library board president, said she was “relieved” that the board had voted down the proposed law, which made it clear that turnarounds and parking areas had to be included in lot coverage calculations—something that was not required over other Main Street institutions in recent years.

The next meeting of The Zoning Board of Appeals is December 12. The agenda for that meeting won’t be set until December 5.

Dennis Fabiszak, library director, said he hoped the library would be on that agenda. “We think the zoning board has not acted on this in the last few months because they were waiting to see what happened with the legislation.”

Of the Village’s Board’s decision to reject the two proposals last Thursday, he said, “It seemed clear that they didn’t want to act on a law that would affect any current application in any way, whether it was negative or positive,” he said.

The library’s case has been before the Appeals Board for four years, a long process that has cost the board $250,000 so far, including $100,000 for a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) the appeals board ordered, according to Ms. Niggles.

The library submitted the statement earlier this year. The board rejected it twice as incomplete and called for revisions and more information. It appeared set to do so again early this summer but in July, in what appeared to be a surprising about-face, accepted the DEIS. A final study must now be submitted after new hearings before the Appeals Board.

Appeals Board chairman Andrew Goldstein recused himself from the case this year after library officials complained that he had openly opposed the library’s proposal as an official of the Village Preservation Society. Opponents say the new wing is not needed and will add to village traffic and congestion.

Saying the library has an inadequate children’s collection, library officials want to add 3,545 square feet on the library’s first floor to provide space to increase its collection of books for children and young adults. Another 3,257 square feet would be added in the basement for a 60-person lecture room.

At the hearing before the board’s vote Thursday, Ms. Niggles said if the board was going to pass the proposed law without the exception, it would be “outrageous. The children of East Hampton deserve a more updated library.”

Gail Parker, a member of the library board, said, “It would be unfair to the library for the trustees to pass the new law without such an exemption. The library has been processing its application for four years. If the law were adopted without the exemption, the proposed children’s wing could not be built. Are the trustees comfortable denying enhanced library services to the children of this community?”

A lawyer representing the Village Preservation Society, which opposes the library expansion, Jeffery Bragman, said it would be a “mistake” for the board of trustees to vote for an exemption to the proposed law.

“We urge you to change the definition of “structure” to include driveways and parking areas without creating an exemption for the library,” he said.

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