Sagaponack Approves Petrello House But Will Wait For Legal War

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Sagaponack Village officials approved the design of a new house to be built along its oceanfront by Cynthia and Anthony Petrello this week, even though the construction of the house will remain in limbo pending a lawsuit filed by the Petrellos 
against the village, claiming a law limiting construction within 125 feet of the dunes is improper.

The house, approved by the village’s Architectural Review Board, would be approximately 4,500 square feet, with a pool and deck overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and is expected to be the first of two houses the Petrellos will build on 9.5 acres of largely vacant land they own in the area.

Back in July, the village ARB approved the demolition of a 600-square-foot cottage built on the property in the early 20th century, but consultants for the Petrellos have yet to apply for the permits to conduct the demolition. The cottage is one of five that lie amid the dunes along the oceanfront of the White family farm, from whom the Petrellos purchased their land in a deal that led to a years-long legal war with White family patriarch John C. White.

Despite the approval of the designs for the new house, the Petrellos will not be able to proceed with its construction without a very liberal variance from the village’s Coastal Erosion Hazard Area building restriction, which bars any new construction within 125 feet of the dunes. The current 
cottage sits directly within the dunes, and the new house the Petrellos have proposed would occupy essentially the same location.

The village’s CEHA law was put into effect in June of this year, after the Petrellos had filed their application. But because the village had not issued 
building permits for the new house yet, the proposed structure is caught up in the new code.

The Petrellos have filed a lawsuit against the village and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which approved the new law even though it is far more restrictive than the state’s own codes. The suit claims the village should not be able to impose building restrictions more stringent than those of the state’s laws. The state had signed off on the plans for the Petrellos’ new house as it is planned prior to the ratification of the village’s new codes. Before the village incorporated in 2005, building in the area had been governed by Southampton Town’s coastal building restrictions, which mirror the ones adopted by the village this year.

In order to comply with the coastal building restrictions, the Petrellos would have to move the proposed location of the new house more than 100 feet landward, which would push the house outside of the building envelope allowed by the village’s “pyramid” height and mass restriction. The Petrellos could apply to the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals for variance from either the coastal erosion area restrictions or the pyramid law.

The Petrellos are also still embroiled in a legal battle with the White family, whom they have accused of breaking a contract that should entitle them to purchase, or simply take ownership of without compensation, much of the family’s oceanfront farmland.

After finally closing last year on the 9.5-acre parcel they agreed to buy from the Whites in 1995 for $2 million—a deal the Whites tried to back out of at closing time—the Petrellos filed suit against Mr. White, claiming that he violated a clause in the original sale contract that gave them the right of first refusal to purchase any of his land that he put up for sale. The Petrellos’ attorneys have claimed that when Mr. White put portions of the land into a collection of family trusts in the name of his children, it violated that agreement and that the lands should now be summarily transferred to the Petrellos for whatever compensation was made within the trusts, which was zero dollars in some instances. The case is still pending.

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