Sagaponack To Tackle House-Size Subterfuge

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The Sagaponack Village Board plans to make changes to its zoning codes that it hopes will head off what village officials described as brazen and deceitful steps by homeowners, architects and builders to flout rules intended to limit the size of houses.

The board and Village Building Inspector John Woudsma discussed some of the tricks architects and builders have used to meet the village’s size limits, technically, but that allow for relatively simple, secreted alterations that substantially expand the space of a house.

“The most egregious is the second-floor unfinished attic space,” Mr. Woudsma said. “After the final inspection, all they do is just go back and finish it out. All you have to do is knock down a wall.”

Mr. Woudsma said he has caught builders in the act, sometimes after complaints from a neighbor about construction taking place at night, when the tiny village’s lone code inspector is no longer making rounds. He said contractors take steps not to make the ongoing construction apparent, like removing windows at the rear of the house to create an entrance for workers and materials, rather than using the front door, where they would be easily spotted.

The village limits the size of houses by a formula known as a floor-area ratio, or FAR, that ties the allowed square footage of “habitable space” and other structures to the size of a lot, intended to keep the massing of structures built proportional to the lot. The village’s ratio allows for an approximately 7,000-square-foot house on a property of about 1.5 acres.

The law currently does not count storage or attic space, or bathrooms and hallways, as habitable space, and they are not counted in the FAR calculation of a house’s allowable size.

Board members shook their heads knowingly at Mr. Woudsma’s tales of malfeasance on the part of applicants to get around the limits, which they noted are more generous than limits in other villages in the region.

“If somebody is designing and they’re over the FAR, they just take part of the upstairs and call it storage,” Mayor Don Louchheim said. “Originally, this was second-story living space, but … suddenly it is unfinished attic space. All it meant was it doesn’t have a ceiling … without any reducing of the visible mass of the building.”

The mayor said that Village Attorney Anthony Tohill would be working on wording for an amendment to the zoning code.

Mr. Woudsma suggested the board could expand the formula to account for any space with a ceiling height of 7 feet or more so it could rein in the misrepresentation of space. Or, he suggested, the board could just count all interior space under the roof, or any lighted space. Whatever the steps, he noted, builders will be looking for ways to get the maximum and maybe a little more.

“Figures don’t lie,” he said. “But liars figure.”

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