A State Supreme Court justice has thrown out a 2012 Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals decision that had cleared the way for a controversial swimming pool to be installed in a Bridgehampton front yard, contrary to the town code, sending the matter back to the ZBA.
The ruling by Justice William B. Rebolini, which was issued on July 3, stated that by granting the necessary variances for a 14-foot-by-28-foot swimming pool and deck, the ZBA made an “arbitrary and capricious” decision. The justice argued that the ZBA essentially ignored a prior decision rejecting a similar application for a slightly larger pool at the same Hildreth Avenue property, although the circumstances cited in the earlier ruling had not significantly changed.
In the original 2009 ZBA decision, Justice Rebolini said, board members outlined several valid concerns regarding the character of the neighborhood, the environmental impact on the area and privacy for neighbors. In the 2012 decision, many of those issues were not addressed or were overlooked, he said, as the smaller pool was approved.
“The ZBA did not explain in the September 20, 2012, determination why it is now, theoretically, willing to ‘jeopardize the environmental integrity of surrounding parcels’ when it was not willing to do so before,” the court decision reads.
“As the ZBA failed to articulate any reasons to justify a departure from its prior finding, its determination must be annulled, and the court need not consider whether the evidence was otherwise sufficient to support the determination.”
Ultimately, the decision remanded the swimming pool application back to the ZBA for a new decision consistent with the court findings. John Bennett, the attorney representing property owner Janet Finkel, said this week that he will go back before the ZBA seeking re-approval of the swimming pool.
On Monday morning, Mr. Bennett said that the application was approved by both the Southampton Town Conservation Board and the State Department of Environmental Conservation, and that neighbors have not tried to appeal either of those permits.
“I will continue to fight for this woman who is being victimized by her arrogant and hypocritical neighbors,” he said. “We are going to go back and demonstrate why there is no environmental impact to the area.”
East Hampton-based attorney Jeff Bragman, who was representing neighbors David DiDomenico and Arthur Romaine in the Article 78 lawsuit against Ms. Finkel and the ZBA, said he is very happy with the decision. “I think this is the Supreme Court correctly doing its job and making sure that the ZBA acts responsibly,” he said when reached on Friday.
“When the ZBA makes decisions, they set a precedent, not only for the town but for itself,” he added. “You can change your mind if you have a reason and articulate it. But in this last approval—which had the look and feel of a political compromise—they did not articulate any reason for overruling the previous denial.”
On Friday morning, Assistant Town Attorney Katie Garvin said the ZBA will reevaluate the application after it has a chance to talk to Ms. Finkel. “The court remanded it to the ZBA,” she said. “So we will process it as soon as we can coordinate with the applicant.”