Those looking to build a towering mansion in Southampton Village will have to wait a little longer, as officials have enacted a moratorium on any home construction exceeding 35 feet.
With the moratorium in place, the Village Board appointed environmental planning company Nelson, Pope and Voorhies to conduct an in-depth study of the village to evaluate the Federal Emergency Management Agency construction requirements in flood zones, and determine how they affect construction in the area and what needs to be done to adjust village laws in response. The ban will remain in place while that study is completed.
The village has a 35-foot maximum on the height of new construction, but several recent applications have sought to exceed that limit, based on the fact that FEMA requires new construction in the floodplain to be elevated as a flood mitigation effort. As a result, some of the houses were proposed to be taller than the village limit when measured from ground level.
On Thursday night, October 9, the Village Board unanimously agreed to implement the moratorium, rejecting recommendations from the Suffolk County Planning Commission that its members maintained were outside the commission’s purview.
With the moratorium in effect, no building permits for homes more than 35 feet high—regardless of whether they have been reviewed by any of the review boards already—can be issued until the village votes to lift the moratorium, or until it expires in April 2015. Residents can petition to the Village Board for a special exception to have a case reviewed or approved, however.
With the moratorium in effect, review boards are not allowed to weigh or approve new building or alteration applications for homes that would be higher than 35 feet with an altered flood line, or 27 feet for a flat-pitched house. The building inspector is not authorized to grant any further building permits for such homes.
Although the moratorium can last for up to six months, Village Mayor Mark Epley said last Thursday that he hopes it will not take that long, adding that the moratorium is in direct response to two recent applications in the village.
The first is 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 Architectural Review Board in May. The house, being constructed by the Farrell Building Company, is proposed as 28.3 feet tall, under the village limit, but opponents say it’s still too tall for that part of the neighborhood. Likewise, it is smaller than the village code permits on the 1.2-acre property, but neighbors still say it is too large.
The second application is to replace a 120-year-old shingle-style house with a large, 53-foot-tall modern house at 40 Meadow Lane, also in a historic district. The old three-story house on the ocean, historically known as “A-wheel-y Moor,” has already been demolished, and a permit to construct a 6,677-square-foot house has already been approved, but recent legal action has halted construction.
According to last week’s decision, the village opted not to heed advice from the Suffolk County Planning Commission dictating the text of the local law, which the commission said should include facts justifying the law.
“In other words, the recommendation appears to constitute legal advice rather than a recommendation based on planning or zoning principles or policies,” the village law states. “There is no legal requirement that the text of a local law must contain detailed findings with respect to facts and circumstances justifying the validity of the local law. In the event of an action challenging the validity of a local law, the local legislative body may present to the court evidence with respect to facts and circumstances justifying the validity of the local law.”
Nelson, Pope & Voorhies will conduct a FEMA elevation and zoning height requirement study for the village for $36,910. As part of the study, the company will evaluate how other local municipalities have handled incorporating FEMA flood lines into their village and town codes. At the same time, the company will evaluate what would happen if the village’s height requirement was reduced, and how that would affect historic districts in particular.
Last week, Mr. Epley said having the moratorium in place will allow village officials to see what is best for the village.
“We are moving forward with this,” he said during the October meeting. “Let’s move forward and get this issue resolved and put it to rest so that we can move on and address the other issues in our village, because I am sure there will be other things that pop up.”