The Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals denied a variance last week that would have allowed the owners of a Hampton Bays motel to continue renting the units as apartments, as they have been doing for nearly two decades.
All but one of the seven board members voted in favor of the long-awaited decision, handed down last Thursday, with Chairman Herb Phillips dissenting. The application drew much attention from Hampton Bays community leaders and residents, many of whom said they feared the approval of apartment units at the Tiana Pines Garden Apartments would set a harmful precedent for the hamlet, which is already burdened with high density.
The board ruled that the two structures on the property must have a use that conforms with highway business zoning, such as a commercial business or a medical or professional office. Neither motels nor apartments are permitted in that zone.
The owners of Tiana Pines are Domenico and Vincenza Iadevaia. The board’s decision stated that they abandoned a nonconforming motel use by renting the 16 units as apartments. Under the town code, once a nonconforming use is abandoned, meaning the use has been voluntarily discontinued for more than a year, the use may not be reinstated. The code also prohibits the board from granting a change from the abandoned motel use to another nonconforming use, such as apartments.
John Bennett, the Southampton attorney who represents the owners, explained during the public hearings on the application that the structures are entitled to be used as a motel as defined by the zoning code in 1971, which permitted kitchens in motel rooms and did not limit visitors’ length of stay. He explained that the ZBA extended a building permit for the property on multiple occasions after the code was amended to prohibit kitchens in motel units and limit the length of stay, meaning the owners have vested rights for the nonconforming motel use. He explained that the motel use was never abandoned because there was virtually no difference between the pre-1972 motel and apartments under the amended code.
In its decision, however, the board explained that the code did distinguish between garden apartments and motels prior to the 1972 amendments. “The plain language of the Town Code at that time (and since) reveals separate definitions for these uses, indicating that the legislative intent for motels were to be used as sleeping quarters (with or without various other accommodations) and garden apartments were to be used as dwellings,” the decision reads.
Mr. Bennett said the applicants would sue the ZBA in State Supreme Court, and he expects the suit to be filed within the next month.
“They issued a wholly political decision with absolutely no factual or legal basis,” he said. “There was an immense amount of political pressure put on the board, which all except one board member succumbed to.”
He said such a political decision was unusual for the board, but also distressing.
Mr. Phillips did not immediately return a call seeking comment on his nay vote.
Michael Dunn, president of the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays, a civic organization that hired attorney Eric Bregman of Farrell Fritz, P.C., to represent them in opposition to the variance, said he was pleased with the decision.
“The motel use was abandoned, clearly, with the applicants’ own admission,” he said. “Enough is enough in Hampton Bays.”