A proposed six-month moratorium on the construction of homes in Southampton Village that would exceed the municipality’s 35-foot height limit stands in limbo this week as officials await permission from Suffolk County to proceed—which could clear the way for a regulatory board vote on a controversial Meadow Lane project.
At a special meeting of the Village Board on Thursday night, September 4, Mayor Mark Epley said the village could not make a decision on the moratorium until after the Suffolk County Planning Commission grants permission to evaluate the village code as a local issue. The Planning Commission met on Thursday afternoon, prompting the village to schedule the special meeting—but the Southampton Village issue was left off the county agenda.
This week, Mr. Epley explained that he has since talked to members of the County Planning Commission who said they would like to offer feedback on the proposal. The next meeting for the Suffolk County Planning Commission is October 1; the earliest its members expect to have a decision for the village is now mid-October, further delaying when the moratorium could go into effect.
“What the county said was there were a couple of comments they want to make, so we cannot go forward yet,” Mr. Epley said. “We will not hear from them until after their October meeting.”
The village’s public hearing on the proposed moratorium remains open. The moratorium would suspend any building permit applications for homes more than 35 feet above average grade. That means that if an altered height line is required for flood insurance or for a building permit, and the proposed house would exceed 35 feet after the altered height line had been included, the permit would not be approved until the Village Board, members of the ARB and village attorneys have had time to reevaluate the current village code. The Village Board would have the option of granting a special exemption for a specific application.
The moratorium proposal is in direct response to the two recent applications in the village. The first was for a 5,531-square-foot, single-family home on a flag lot in a historic district at 483 Hill Street that was approved by the ARB in May. The house is being constructed by the Farrell Building Company, and although it is smaller than the village code permits on the 1.2-acre property, neighbors still say it is too large for the neighborhood.
The second, and much more pressing, application is to replace a 120-year-old shingle-style house with a large modern house at 40 Meadow Lane, in a historic district. The old three-story house on the ocean, historically known as “A-wheel-y Moor,” has already been demolished, but a permit to construct a 6,677-square-foot house has not yet been approved. The application, which is still before the ARB, has drawn criticism this summer from neighbors who persuaded the ARB to reopen a public hearing on the proposal, saying the proposed new house looms over nearby houses, and is too modern in style for the historic district.
The proposed house would reach to 49 feet above grade, well above the village’s 35-foot height limit, because Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations require the house to be constructed on a foundation elevated above sea level to guard against flooding.
For a while, the attorney for the Meadow Lane applicant, John Bennett, said he was in a race to get the application approved before the moratorium goes into effect. However, at a meeting of the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review on Monday night, two members of the five-member were board were absent, meaning the application would have needed unanimous support from all three remaining board members. Instead, Mr. Bennett opted to hold off on having the board vote on the decision until the full board is present.
The next meeting of the ARB is scheduled for Monday, September 22, at 7:30 p.m.
Mr. Bennett was not available for comment this week.
For now, Mr. Epley said that although the moratorium cannot go into effect until mid-October at the earliest, the village will not be sitting idle. Instead, the Village Planning Commission will be reviewing current and proposed heights in the village to get an idea of what changes it would like made. At the same time, the village plans to retain its engineering firm, Nelson, Pope and Voorhies, to study the village and offer insight into proposals and changes.
Mr. Epley said that while the moratorium could be in place for up to six months, he would like to see the process finalized by the end of the year, citing a high volume of future projects coming down the pipe.
“We want them to do a general study of the area in relation to our heights and FEMA,” Mr. Epley said. “Paul Travis [the Village Planning Commission chair] is putting together a list of items they want to see a study of, and we will move forward as soon as possible.”