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Jul 23, 2014 11:31 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village Trustees Seek Moratorium On Extra-Tall Houses

Jul 23, 2014 11:31 AM

The Southampton Village Board may place a moratorium on all new building projects that would require a Federal Emergency Management Agency height line—an elevation of where the base of a house starts, to decrease the risk of flooding—in an attempt to curb the construction of towering mansions.

In the last few months, the Southampton Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review has been presented with two proposals for new houses, one on Hill Street and one on Meadow Lane, that neighbors say will tower over surrounding houses and destroy views. Although neighbors are angry, village officials said there is little they can do about the height of the houses, citing the Federal Emergency Management Act, which dictates how high the base of a house must be raised, typically using pilings or by bringing in fill—before construction can begin.

Often, the FEMA regulation, which is based on the flooding-risk zone the house falls in, can add several feet to the 35-foot maximum height of a home in Southampton Village, yet offers no more living space than in surrounding buildings.

The moratorium discussed by the Village Board on Tuesday night would suspend any application requiring a height of more than 35 feet above the existing natural grade of the property. That means that if an altered height line is required for flood insurance and a building permit, the permit would not be approved until the Village Board, members of the ARB and the village attorneys are able to re-evaluate the current village code.

Neither project that prompted the discussion is likely to be affected by a moratorium: Both are expected to be through the regulatory process before a new measure is adopted.

“The moratorium would be a general moratorium on building permits that fall within the height provision in the zoning code that has been under study recently,” Village Attorney Rich DePetris said at a Village Board meeting on Tuesday night. “The Board of Trustees, in recent months, has been looking at that section of the code to consider in what ways it might be amended, but the process of studying a long-term solution to the issues involved in that section of the code is not a simple process, and it’s going to take a while.”

The moratorium is in direct response to the two recent applications in the village. The first is for a 5,531-square-foot, single-family home on a flag lot in a historic district at 483 Hill Street that was approved by the ARB in May. The house is being constructed by Farrell Building Company, and although it is smaller than the village code permits on the 1.2-acre property, neighbors still say it is too large for the neighborhood.

The second application is to replace a 120-year-old shingle-style house with a large modern house in a historic district at 40 Meadow Lane. A permit has already been granted to tear down the old three-story house on the ocean, historically known as A-wheel-y Moor, to construct a 6,677-square-foot house. The application, which is still before the ARB, has drawn criticism this month from the neighbors, who are calling for the public hearing to be reopened on the proposal.

Approximately 20 neighbors of the Meadow Lane house attended Tuesday night’s Village Board meeting. They asked the village to force the ARB’s hand and reopen the hearing—something the Village Board cannot do, its members noted. The board has, however, called for Mr. DePetris to start the moratorium process.

“This gives us an opportunity to slow some things down and review things,” Mayor Mark Epley said on Wednesday. “But it will also allow people who are already in the process to come back to the Village Board and review some plans and still develop their property. It is about giving a pause to everything to resolve some issues and then move on.”

In order for the moratorium to go into place, the village will need to adopt a local law detailing the parts of the code to be evaluated and banning permits from being issued for affected properties; however, applicants may go before the Village Board to request an exemption. Public hearings would be held before a vote by the Village Board, which most likely would not happen until late August or early September.

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