The Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals has once again approved a variance for a Bridgehampton property owner to allow a swimming pool to be constructed in what is defined as the front yard of the home, despite town code precluding front-yard pools.
In the decision last week, the board majority supported the finding that allowing the pool to be constructed in a front yard was reasonable, because much of the rear yard of the property, owned by Janet Finkel, is constrained by swampy wetlands that run along the rear of the property, and that having the pool in front of the house would not negatively impact the character and atmosphere of the neighborhood.
Opponents, however, decried the decision as an evisceration of zoning that will set a precedent making it harder for the board to apply town codes in protection of neighbors’ rights in future applications.
The Finkel property’s pool has been the focus of a six-year saga and legal struggle. Having initially denied the application in 2009, and then overruled a finding by the town’s building inspector that the lot was “waterfront,” the zoning board approved the pool request in 2010—only to have the decision overruled and sent back to the ZBA by a state court. The new application, essentially the same as the one approved previously, was again approved by a 4-1 majority of the board, with the two newest members opting not to cast votes.
In the decision, the board found that variances for front-yard structures in the surrounding neighborhood, including one for a swimming pool, had been granted in the past, and that Ms. Finkel’s situation warranted similar consideration.
“While the board in 2009 found it appropriate to deny applicant’s requested variances … since then, it is clear … that this board has found that there are circumstances when open front yard views may be obstructed for the benefit of the property owner,” board member Brian DeSesa wrote in the decision. “This is especially true for the applicant’s lot as it is burdened by significant wetlands.”
Attorney Jeffrey Bragman, who represented two neighbors, David DiDomenico and Arthur C. Romaine, in opposition to the application, said this week that the ruling would harm the power of zoning laws.
“It’s a terrible decision for the town,” Mr. Bragman said. “It upends the protection of front-yard setbacks. It just tells people that they can’t rely on zoning to protect them from a zoning board doing a favor for someone they think deserves it.”
Mr. Bragman said he did not know whether his clients would mount another court challenge to the ZBA’s latest ruling. Reached by phone, Mr. DiDomenico said he has not yet decided whether he would continue fighting the board and his neighbor. He declined to comment on the ZBA’s decision.
“The ZBA has spoken twice and has responded to the concerns the judge had—hopefully, [the neighbors] will decide to be good neighbors and live and let live,” Ms. Finkel’s attorney, John Bennett, said. “The house next door has a pool in the front yard, and I don’t think it has ruined their neighborhood.”
In its first ruling on the case, State Supreme Court Justice William Rebolini overturned the ZBA’s 2010 approval, but did so because he said the board had failed to explain or justify why it had reversed its previous denial of the application. He did not, however, rule on whether the evidence in support of the variance justified its issuance.
Board member Adam Grossman was the lone vote of dissent on the most recent finding. Helen Burgess, who had not been on the board during the review of the application, abstained. Laura Stephenson, also a new member, was absent the night of the vote.