Planning Board Gets Personal In East Hampton Village

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Things got personal at Thursday morning’s planning board meeting in East Hampton Village when board member Mark Butler recused himself from weighing in on an application for a lot modification for two properties on La Forrest Lane, referencing a letter the applicants’ sent alerting the board of a neighborly conflict a few years prior.

Richard Reiss, one of the applicants for the modification, told the board and those in attendance at the meeting that “a few years ago,” Mr. Butler’s son got married and he had contacted the Reiss’s to ask if he could use their vacant land for parking for the reception. The Reiss’s have two pieces of property before the board—one vacant and one containing a home—and are seeking a lotline modification to gift 300 feet of built property to the vacant lot to allow Mr. Reiss’s daughter to build a larger home on that lot.

“Our response was ‘absolutely,’” Mr. Reiss said of how he responded to Mr. Butler’s request for additional parking on his property.

In a separate incident last summer, according to Mr. Reiss, his daughter, Lauren, had come out of the house to find a dozen cars parked on their vacant lot, but this time without his permission.

“My daughter stopped at their house and said, ‘excuse me but you’ve parked your cars here without our permission,’ … I waited three weeks, I thought I’d get a phone call or an e-mail or a letter of apology. Frankly, I thought I’d get a bottle of wine or an invitation to play golf. I got nothing.”

Although the actual application for the lotline modification had nothing to do with the parking incident, Mr. Butler’s recusal leaves the board without the input of another qualified member, said board member Obron Farber.

“I value his input and the matters under concern in this circumstance and the potential precedent of our community … will be diminished because we don’t have the input of a valuable member of our board,” she said during the meeting. “I respect his decision, but I’m really sorry it would come to this. It honestly feels to me that this is a little bit petty.”

Personal politics aside, the board raised concerns about approving the application for the lotline modification saying it could encourage the creation of irregularly shaped lots.

At its last meeting, Board Chairman Philip O’Connell, said many of the other lots in the neighborhood are irregularly shaped, but allowing the transfer of the land in this case may give other residents the impression that essentially “swapping” pieces of land and creating even more irregularly shaped lots is condoned.

The applicants’ new attorney David Eagan of Eagan & Matthews PLLC, disagreed.

“I think that when boards worry about creating irregular lots, that’s a valid concern in a neighborhood with a grid-like structure, which this neighborhood doesn’t have to begin with,” Mr. Eagan said. “I don’t think you’re creating a problem. You’re not creating anything more adverse to the character of the neighborhood.”

Furthermore, said Mr. Eagan, fear of setting precedent is not legally a reason for the board to deny the application.

The application, said Village Attorney Linda Riley, is “motivated purely by zoning code restrictions,” since it deals directly with the dimensions of the lot. She said the applicant should have applied for a dimensional variance.

“Gross floor area variances is particularly … hard to get from the ZBA so this was our way of addressing that issue,” Mr. Eagan said.

While Ms. Riley was seemingly displeased with the applicants’ decision to come before the planning board instead of the ZBA, she said the board could not require the applicants to bring their request to the ZBA, but the planning board could take into consideration the applicants’ decision “not to pursue other avenues” for acquiring the land when making their decision.

The Reiss’s, eager to receive the board’s approval, said the addition of the land would not affect the building envelop in any shape or form and the only part of the original design that would change would be the house’s width, by two feet.

“It doesn’t affect how the house sticks out to the north or the south,” said Ms. Reiss, noting the only people who would be affected by the change were she and her father.

The Reiss’s said they would get a covenant proving the new plans would not exceed the building envelope and barring future owners of the property from going outside of the existing, approved building envelope.

“What else do you want?” Mr. Reiss asked the board. “How about a sidewalk? How about trees? Tell me what you want and I’ll do it.”

The applicants agreed to give the board any covenants and restrictions against the property. A public hearing is scheduled for the board’s next meeting on December 12.

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