Zoning Limitations Adopted In East Hampton Village To Restrict House Sizes

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The East Hampton Village Board last week adopted five new local laws that tighten limits on the size of houses, targeting sprawling mansions that many say are out of character in the village.

The first new law changes the current formula for the maximum gross floor area of residences. The code had previously used a simple formula, regardless of the size of a lot: A house could be no larger than 10 percent of the lot size plus 1,000 square feet. The rule had been intended for lots that were smaller than 1 acre but was applied to lots of all sizes, including those that were much larger than 1 acre.

Now, the village has adopted a “graduated formula” in which the aggregate gross floor area—the total gross floor area of a building plus its additional structures, like a pool house—can be no more than 25 percent greater than the existing aggregate gross floor area.

The law has not changed for building lots that are less than 40,000 square feet, which can still have a maximum gross floor area of no more than 10 percent of the lot area plus 1,000 square feet.

Lots between 40,000 and 80,000 square feet will have a maximum gross floor area of 7 percent of the area of the lot plus 2,200 square feet. Lots of 80,000 square feet or more can have a gross floor area of no more than 3 percent of the area of the lot plus 5,400 square feet.

“The new formulas would allow expansion to a degree that would not disrupt the integrity of these neighborhoods, but would be compatible with their existing character,” the new law says.

The second new law ensures that maximum coverage of a lot is related to the size of the lot. For lots that are smaller than 40,000 square feet, the maximum coverage allowed is 20 percent of the total area of the lot plus 500 square feet. Lots between 40,000 and 80,000 square feet are permitted coverage of 15 percent of the total area of the lot plus 2,500 square feet. Finally, for lots 80,000 square feet or more, coverage can be 10 percent of the total area of the lot plus 6,500 square feet.

Another new rule makes the total gross floor area allowed for any additional building on a lot to be contingent upon the combined maximum gross floor area percentage of the lot size where the additional buildings are located.

The previous village formula for the maximum gross floor area of extra buildings was 2 percent of the area of the lot plus 200 square feet, regardless of the size of the lot. It was meant to allow lots that were only half an acre to have one extra structure, such as a garage. The old law could have allowed for up to a 230-percent increase in the aggregate gross floor area of accessory buildings on lots that are more than 1 acre, which would make those buildings out of character with the village.

The new graduated formula will allow a maximum of a 120-percent increase of the aggregate gross floor area of additional buildings on lots greater than 40,000 square feet.

For lots smaller than 40,000 square feet, the maximum gross floor area of all accessory buildings remains the same—they cannot be more than 2 percent of the area of the lot plus an additional 200 square feet. Lots between 40,000 and 80,000 square feet can have a maximum gross floor area for accessory buildings that is 1 percent of the lot area plus 600 square feet. Lots greater than 80,000 square feet are permitted 0.5 percent of the area of the lot plus 1,000 square feet.

Another new law defines the word “story.” The zoning code prohibited more than two stories in a home, but did not explain what a “story” actually is. The revised law defines a story as “the portion of a building between one floor and the next higher floor level or roof.” It says that, when measuring height using stories, when a building is raised more than 4 feet above the natural ground, an extra story should be added in the calculation for “pilings, piers, or other foundations” that make the building rise. This is to prevent multiple stories from being built underground.

The revisions also define the word “cellar” as the part of a structure that is partially or totally below ground and that has greater than half of its height below the ground on which the structure sits. It says that cellars cannot go extend horizontally past the exterior walls of the first floor of a structure, or more than 12 feet below the undisturbed ground.

Yet another new provision is intended to keep basements proportionate to the size of their homes, to inhibit congestion in the village from additional vehicles and residents, as well as to keep noise and the intensity of land use at a minimum.

Some lawyers, environmental consultants, and village homeowners said the Village Board did not adequately review the proposed laws and that these laws will result in such negative effects as a loss of jobs, decline in property values, and decrease in building permit revenues, among other things. However, Village Board members maintained that they are acting in the best interest of the village.

“Not being able to do due diligence as your elected officials would be failing,” Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said. “We feel this is the best method and methodology moving ahead.”

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