Attorneys Ask For Grandfathering If New House Size Limits Are Adopted In East Hampton

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East Hampton Town’s plans to trim the allowable size of homes townwide was met, again, with a host of concerns from real estate professionals who said they are worried about the impacts of more stringent limits on architecture, and from homeowners who have already begun the process of making alterations to their properties.

The law, in part, proposes limiting the size of homes to 10 percent of the total lot size, plus 1,600 square feet—a formula that town officials hope will rein in the mass of homes on lots of 1 acre and larger, while still allowing for healthy expansions of houses on smaller lots. Currently, the limit is 12 percent plus 1,600 square feet.

For some, the proposed changes will help tamp down “overbuilding” on parcels that crowds out open space on properties and leaves homes looming over street fronts. To others, however, the changes seem to be too little, and perhaps too late.

“The situation we have now is almost, like, why bother? We have 12 percent plus 1,600 square feet, and it’s reasonable,” said Kieran Brew, an Amagansett resident, real estate broker and former chairman of the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee, at a public hearing on the legislation on Thursday night, November 17. “To reduce that by … less than 20 percent is not going to achieve the effect that we’re talking about here, which is to make buildings appear less crowded on their lots.”

Mr. Brew pointed out that much of the catalyst for the original creation of a limit based on gross floor area, or GFA, as well as for a new tightening of the screws was to protect “the lanes” in Amagansett—a historic residential section of the hamlet. But that is a lost cause in Mr. Brew’s estimation.

“As far as the lanes in Amagansett go, the horse is out of the barn,” he said. “There just are not enough lots left that are not the newer, larger-style house that most of the people who are building in the lanes of Amagansett now prefer. So what is this going to do for that particular area?”

Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the fairly conservative nature of the proposed changes was intentional, so as not to be overly restrictive while still effecting subtle changes in the long run to the appearance of redeveloping neighborhoods.

“I’m driven to this issue because, having lived here my whole life and watching some of these changes taking place, I feel there are far too many homes that are out of proportion to their lot sizes,” Mr. Cantwell said. “It’s changing the character of this community as a whole. This is a fairly modest proposal compared to what other municipalities have adopted.”

Several attorneys representing homeowners who have already begun navigating the regulatory process for building, expanding or remodeling homes asked that the town allow for plans that are already under way if the law is adopted to proceed under the current size restrictions. Mr. Cantwell said that the board would be working with attorneys to include some form of accommodation in the legislation.

Some attorneys also raised concerns that one part of the legislation, which says that any space with ceilings over 15 feet should be counted double toward the GFA total, could cause issues for some commercial buildings, like grocery stores, if applied to them. Board members said they would look at that portion of the law, and others raised at the public hearing, again at a coming work session.

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