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Jan 16, 2017 10:41 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Pulls Back On Basement Limitations

Jan 16, 2017 10:51 AM

East Hampton Town’s plans to limit the size of the portion of a house that is underground—be it called a cellar, basement or, as has become common, lower level—hit a speed bump with a single question in what most expected to be the final discussion of a package of zoning amendments the town has been tinkering with for months: Why?

The town had introduced legislation last summer that would have limited the size of a home’s basement to no more than 110 percent of the footprint of the house itself and to no more than 12 feet deep.

East Hampton Village adopted similar restrictions in 2015 and Sagaponack Village had considered legislation in the wake of two projects that required enormous “dewatering” to make way for the cavernous underground levels but did not adopt any restrictions. East Hampton Town recommended the restrictions as a way to prevent unsafe living conditions, curtail environmental impacts and tamp down energy usage.

But after questions about whether the creation of huge underground spaces actually posed a problem—by another municipality’s building inspector—the Town Board is now mulling other possible limitations.

“What is the evil you are trying to remedy?” Jon Woudsma, the building inspector for Sagaponack Village, asked the board at a meeting on January 5. “There’s no harm to this. There’s no environmentally damaging impact. You’re just digging out sand and loam.”

Mr. Woudsma, who is a builder and said he was not questioning the law in his official capacity, also noted that limiting improvements to homes also carries some tax impact.

Town officials said that the intention, as had been stated during East Hampton Village’s discussion of the law, was to prevent multi-level underground development, undergrounds that connect primary and accessory structures, and disturbances in the water table.

Mr. Woudsma told the board he had recently approved a building permit for a 5,000-square-foot underground area some 22 feet deep. The sprawling lower level would house a half-court basketball court, a hockey rink, a gymnastics area and a “soccer pitch,” he said.

“This is great stuff that’s happening,” he exclaimed. “This is what we should be doing!”

Mr. Woudsma was the lone person to object to the limitations on basement sizes. There were others who saw it differently.

“I think Mr. Woudsma just made the case of the people who are concerned about this,” said David Buda, a Springs resident, of the underground accouterments at the Sagaponack house. “Under the current definitions of [gross floor area] … anything and everything below the first floor is not a story and therefore is excluded. That is allowing people to maximize an excessive amount of GFA.”

Mr. Buda proposed that the town include underground areas in the total square footage it allows and recalculate a reasonable limit on house sizes.

The legislation that was to restrict basements also carries with it amendments to the formula the town uses to calculate the allowed size of aboveground houses. The town is in line to change the formula, known as the gross floor area calculation, from 12 percent of the total lot to 10 percent of total lot area, plus 1,600 square feet.

That shift, which had received some criticism from real estate and building industry voices, was tweaked slightly in the final versions to allow for grandfathering of any expansion or building proposals before the town that will already have received a building permit, a zoning board or other regulatory board approval.

All four amendments will now wait until the board decides whether there is a benefit to limiting the size of basements. At a work session last week the board heard from town planners that they could place other limits, if environmental hazards or safety were their primary concern about large basements, that limit the number of levels or set a minimum separation from groundwater that a basement could extend to.

“We’ve had construction of multiple below-ground levels—it may be an extreme practice, but there have been cases,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said. “I guess the question becomes for us, where do we want to go?”

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Simple solution.. any basement footage above the footprint is added to the gross floor calculation.
By harbor (411), East Hampton on Jan 16, 17 2:02 PM
1 member liked this comment
Why is zoning trying to limit what's underground that no one sees? Letting people build underground let's them get the size house with the amenities they desire without having to make the house appear to big on the property.
By SHResident (59), Southampton on Jan 16, 17 2:17 PM
1 member liked this comment
What a bunch of elitist idiots. The envy of the local yokels in Sagaponack is ridiculous. Who's business is it what you do in your property . Go Trump!
By chief1 (2790), southampton on Jan 16, 17 4:26 PM
What a jealous bunch! This exposes the pyramid law for what it always was envy.

Heres an idea Donald, Lee,William,Joy and most of all Lisa Mind your own business for once !
By Ditch Bum (900), Water Mill on Jan 17, 17 9:10 PM