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Mar 1, 2013 12:09 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village ZBA Grants Pyramid Law Variance For Wooley Street Home

Mar 5, 2013 3:45 PM

The owner/builder of a Wooley Street home in Southampton Village that violates the village’s Pyramid Law, who stopped work pending his request for a variance, will now get back to finishing the building.

At the Southampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals board meeting last Thursday, February 28, the board granted a variance to Douglas Valk, whose home was built in violation of village code, a fact missed by village inspectors who issued a building permit. Approval came with a 3-1 vote, with board member Rob DeVinney dissenting—and saying that the law was compromised, and he worries about the impact of the decision. Board member James Zuhusky was absent.

The home violates the Pyramid Law, which limits a building’s height and the angle of its roofline in order to keep it from disrupting the view of its neighbors. It is based on lot size and where the structure is located on the lot. The violation is the result of an admitted oversight by the builder—but also by the Village Building Department, which issued a building permit allowing the construction without checking if it complied with the Pyramid Law.

Had the board not granted the variance, Mr. Valk would have been required to remove the second floor of the structure and rebuild it to adhere to the law, removing approximately 280 square feet from the house—at a cost of nearly $150,000, according to the owner.

“My wife and I are thankful this is behind us, but it’s been very difficult,” Mr. Valk said on Monday. “We realized that the board had a very difficult decision, that whatever it decided is going to upset one side or the other. But we had a very compelling argument and extremely unique circumstances to support our application.”

Others were not so thankful. Neighbors of the home and opponents of the variance left the meeting deflated and frustrated that no explanation of the decision was given during the meeting. According to members of the ZBA in their decision, “The benefit sought by the applicant outweighs any detriment to the neighborhood under the circumstances of this case.”

Neighbors of the 2,880-square-foot home have argued that since Mr. Valk’s home is for sale, with an asking price of $2.75 million, he would make a profit on its sale, even if he had to rebuild.

“The board has made a lot of bad decisions along these lines,” said Jay Diesing, president of a local citizens group, the Southampton Association. “The Building Department doesn’t pay attention, and the ZBA grants variances.”

Mr. Valk’s application had been challenged since November by neighbors who have said that the home does not fit in with the general aesthetics of the neighborhood, and the couple who lives north of the property has complained that the house blocks sunlight to their home because Mr. Valk’s house is too tall. The same neighbors have said that such an error should be remedied, and that granting Mr. Valk a pass would set a dangerous precedent.

Nonetheless, the board said that although Mr. Valk should have known about the Pyramid Law requirement—and the board considers his need for a variance as a “self-created difficulty”—the construction that followed relied on a building permit approved by the building inspector and issued last June. “Difficulty resulting from good faith reliance on a building permit mistakenly issued by a building inspector is properly considered in evaluating an application for an area variance, and we find no basis in the record for questioning the applicant’s good faith,” the decision said.

During public hearings in December and January, Mr. Valk and his attorney, David Gilmartin Jr. of the Bridgehampton firm Farrell Fritz P.C., argued that not including the Pyramid Law sketch in the site plan was an honest mistake, and that demolishing and rebuilding the second floor would be costly. Village Building Inspector Jonathan Foster, who said he was not the inspector who granted the permit, said that missing the detail was an oversight made in a very busy office.

And despite some neighbors’ urging that the house stands out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood, members of the board said in their decision that by granting the variance there would be no undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood.

Since the Village Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation approved the site plans before the building permit was issued—the ARB does not check for adherence to the Pyramid Law—the ZBA said that any suggestion that the ARB did not consider the plans in relation to the character of the neighborhood is not realistic. Mr. Valk said he and his neighbors worked with the ARB last year to reach an approved design.

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Not that I disagree with the ruling but it does reinforce that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Mar 1, 13 12:31 PM
3 members liked this comment
Any stipulation by the board that the builder share his excess profit because of the higher square footage allowed?

If not, it is not only easier to go this route, but also more PROFITABLE!

Welcome to the Village run by real estate brokers, developers and so forth.

The Golden Rule has prevailed again.

Is the Citarella proposal the next straw on the Carmel's back?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 1, 13 1:24 PM
The Public Integrity Bureau (“PIB”) investigates and seeks to vindicate the public's interest in honest government. When government actors, or private individuals acting in concert with them, engage in corruption, fraud or illegal behavior in the course of their public duties, the PIB may investigate or take enforcement action to restore the public's interest in honest government and the integrity of government officials at the state and local level.

By Vig (5), Southampton on Mar 5, 13 4:42 PM
Thanks for the address for PIP. I have already sent them an email provided at thier website. Perhaps if we all take a moment and write to our NYS Attorney General briefly describing the ZBA arrogance and law breaking we might get some official attention and some much needed assistance. Try, Ok because we'll not get any where with the Mayors' office. http://www.ag.ny.gov/bureau/public-integrity-bureau
Public integrity is out of style in Southampton VIllage. Time to tattle!
By BILLM (9), SOUTHAMPTON on Mar 10, 13 6:19 PM
Disgust. Pure unmitigated disgust. This decision makes me want to stick my finger down my throat and vomit up any further reference to this Board or Southamppton Village. Clearly as one Board member stated at an earlier hearing about risk, that risk in real estate is different than other risk. He's right ! What he meant to say is that there is NO risk in Village Real Estate with decisions like this. Build it wrong ? Hey, no problem; just grant a variance. What this Board has done is to make a mockery ...more
By lazymedic (100), southampton on Mar 1, 13 1:52 PM
3 members liked this comment
Accepting that it was an honest mistake, irrespective of the fact that the owner is a builder, a remedy should have included some penalty of some form of either a fine or a higher tax rate on the property. What will happen next time?
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Mar 1, 13 4:31 PM
He who has the gold makes the rule!
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 1, 13 4:51 PM
3 members liked this comment
great another art 78 filed against the village and more money spent on validating a bad determination. way to go village. when will it end?? next election I hope and I am not a village resident but am close by and will not come to the village to shop if the governing body keeps ***** the village by allowing inappropriate business into the main street area. keep the village as a village and everyone will be happy as leawst if we can park!!.
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Mar 1, 13 8:18 PM
The mayor appoints the ZBA members. He needs to rethink who is sitting on this board. They do not represent the villagers who hope, year after year, that someone will actually attempt to preserve what little is left of the village center and the neighborhoods. Developers and inappropriately large residential buildings just like Valk's are what the ZBA is sanctioning. Shame on them.
By localcitizen (110), Southampton on Mar 3, 13 7:36 AM
One assumes Emperor Epley is unhappy with this pro-development ruling?

Fiddle, Fiddle, Fiddle !!!
By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on Mar 3, 13 1:07 PM
What village are you talking about? This village looks great and the house being built on Woody Street replaced a old crappy house. If anyone thinks the village doesn't look better they are on drugs. As far as the ZBA approval of this application goes it was the right decesion. The ZBA attorney advises this board in it's decesions, and probally told them a no vote would never hold up in court. Why don't you people mind your own business when it comes to property rights? When you have a piece of ...more
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Mar 3, 13 8:08 PM
"Why don't you people mind your own business "? So you can comment with your big government teabaggery but others should mind their own business? You are a hypocrite of the worst kind, Chiefie. When you have a piece of land you have the same rights as everyone else! There are zoning codes that are put in place for a reason, so it is OK for this guy to do whatever the hell he wants? Get over yourself and follow your own advice.
By witch hazel (224), tatooine on Mar 4, 13 4:29 PM
4 members liked this comment
My mistake above. I neither "like" nor agree with chief1's comment. I was noting, however, who did, and saw that the "likes" included Theresa Kiernan. In another piece on this subject (2/13, link above), Ms. Kiernan declared that Mr. Valk's "not very neighborly" neighbors simply do not want a house of any kind on the property. Apart from the political differences between herself and the neighbors which may or may not have generated this gratuitous slur, it is manifestly unlikely that Ms. Kiernan ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Mar 12, 13 6:59 PM
Oh George, you are incorrect and tragically transparent all at the same time with this comment. I support the applicants because Mrs. Valk is one of my closest friends since 7th grade at SIS (sorry to all of the "out of town developer" conspiracy theorists who were also completely wrong). And as someone who attended every hearing, I am well versed on the "neighbors desires". Walter made it very clear that for the past 15 years of living there they enjoyed a "park like setting" next door and now ...more
By Theresa Kiernan (26), Southampton on Mar 13, 13 12:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
Ms. Kiernan, you're only digging yourself in deeper. First, you've just admitted that your support of the applicants is based on a longtime friendship rather than on anything to do with the substance of the application. Typical of the "it's not what you know but who you know" mindset that plagues Southampton. Thank you.

Second, you've insulted the objecting neighbors yet again by imputing to them an impossible wish to have no house at all on the Valk property. Enjoying a "park-like ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Mar 13, 13 12:39 PM
Wrong again George. But please by all means keep trying. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
By Theresa Kiernan (26), Southampton on Mar 13, 13 1:41 PM
If that's all you've got for an answer, I don't need to keep trying. We're done.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Mar 14, 13 10:08 AM
Unbelievable! Why do zoning laws even exist in the first place if they are allowed to be broken. This ruling sets a precedence that is not good.
By witch hazel (224), tatooine on Mar 4, 13 4:25 PM
1 member liked this comment
The zba disregareded the law concerning the pyramid law and allowed their sympathy to a developer instead of following the law. Why have a law if you do not uphold it. Three members of the ZBA should retire before they do any more injury to our neighbohoods.
By BILLM (9), SOUTHAMPTON on Mar 4, 13 4:55 PM
2 members liked this comment
It would be interesting to see what the future brings.

Possibly a few lawsuits by those who were forced to abide by the "Pyramid Law"?

By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Mar 10, 13 6:33 PM
What a disgrace.
By Vig (5), Southampton on Mar 4, 13 5:23 PM
1 member liked this comment
Brand new homes have been ordered knocked down because of Southampton Building Pyramid laws. Why is this house, or this builder different? Why did the ZBA allow this? Is there any recourse or appeal the neighborhood can ask for?
By Vig (5), Southampton on Mar 4, 13 5:30 PM
2 members liked this comment

The Public Integrity Bureau (“PIB”) investigates and seeks to vindicate the public's interest in honest government. When government actors, or private individuals acting in concert with them, engage in corruption, fraud or illegal behavior in the course of their public duties, the PIB may investigate or take enforcement action to restore the public's interest in honest government and the integrity of government officials ...more
By Vig (5), Southampton on Mar 5, 13 4:40 PM
Congratulations. The house looks great, wish it was mine!
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on Mar 6, 13 7:57 AM
1 member liked this comment
What the ZBA whores have slyly accomplished with this illegal granting to 80 Wooley Street is the sneeky undermining of the Southampton Village Pyramid Law. Any applicant who asks for one now is entitled to it.
So, the ZBA has changed this law without public debate or vote.
The realty rats are here in squadrons working busily behind the scenes to dismantle any impediments to their profit taking.
The croynism here is right out in the open now.
Perhaps it is time for the SH Village ...more
By BILLM (9), SOUTHAMPTON on Mar 10, 13 5:43 PM
1 member liked this comment
Are you suggesting that the mayor is displeased with this ruling?

Check out Wooley Street by driving north from Hampton Road. This house is down a ways on right, and it TOWERS over the nearby houses.

When the Village code was revised years ago to allow houses to max. out, the battle was lost legislatively. Ironic that the pro-building lobby is ruining the very quaintness which (in the longer run) results in REAL increases in real estate values.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 11, 13 1:13 PM
PS yes the ARB showed its true colors here.

What color is greed?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 11, 13 1:14 PM