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Aug 27, 2014 9:47 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village Residents Split Over Proposed Building Moratorium

Aug 27, 2014 10:52 AM

After Southampton residents passionately pleaded their cases for and against a proposed moratorium on taller-than-usual houses, the Southampton Village Board decided on Tuesday night to leave a public hearing open for further comment.

The proposed moratorium would suspend any building permit applications for homes more than 35 feet above sea level. That means that if an altered height line is required by flood insurance or for a building permit, and the proposed house would exceed 35 feet—the height limit in the village—after the altered height line has been included, the permit would not be approved until the Village Board, members of the ARB and village attorneys have had time to re-evaluate the current village code. The Village Board also would have the option of granting special exemption to a specific application.

At the hearing on Tuesday night, some residents argued that the moratorium is necessary to preserve the historical character of the village, while others said it is not fair to people who have been working within the current code and review processes, and who had scheduled construction to start in the next few weeks and months.

“Basically, if approved, the local law enacted would prohibit issuance of building permits, ARB, Planning Board and ZBA approvals, certificates of appropriateness for construction, reconstruction or enlargement of a dwelling if it exceeds the height limitation set forth in the moratorium law,” Village Attorney Rich DePetris explained to the approximately 60 people who turned out for the hearing.

“There are also provisions in the law for an application to the Board of Trustees by an individual property owner for an exemption from the moratorium,” Mr. DePetris added.

The moratorium proposal 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 the 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 at 40 Meadow Lane in a historic district. The old three-story house on the ocean, historically known as “A-wheel-y Moor,” has already been demolished, but a permit to construct a 6,677-square-foot house has not yet been approved. The application, which is still before the ARB, has drawn criticism this month from neighbors who persuaded the ARB to reopen a public hearing on the proposal.

Although the Village Board on Tuesday would not allow speakers to comment on any specific application that is currently open before any of the Southampton Village boards, several people expressed opinions about the controversial moratorium proposal.

Mitchell and Kathy Jacobson said the moratorium would halt a two-year-long process to build their dream home. During the hearing, Mr. Jacobson outlined for the board how it took several years for the couple to find a piece of property they liked before purchasing their land at 320 Murray Place. Prior to purchasing the land, they carefully evaluated village codes, had several meetings with architects, and secured a letter from Southampton Village Building Inspector Jon Foster detailing what could and could not be done with the property.

After several years, and a considerable amount of money, the couple said it would be unfair to change the laws—possibly requiring them to alter their house plans—in the middle of the process. The couple had hoped to finally start construction in the next few weeks and have their house ready in summer 2015.

“A delay at this stage would cost us a summer in our home,” Mr. Jacobson said. “And, frankly, I don’t have enough summers left. We have followed every village rule and relied on a letter from the chief building inspector to build the home of our dreams, and we don’t think that this is fair.”

Another resident, Mackie Finnerty of Wooley Street, took a different stance. While she said she could understand the plight of those who were trying to get their homes built, the moratorium would benefit the entire community, she said, and give the village an opportunity to get a handle on a serious situation that could affect property values and taxes for everyone.

“People are acting like it is the most amazing and outlandish thing that has ever happened,” she said. “Moratoriums are there for good reason, to get a good solution to a serious problem, a very difficult problem. I have confidence you will come up with something that is reasonable.”

At the meeting Mayor Mark Epley also made it clear that the village is not looking to sideline all projects, He said the local law enacting the moratorium does leave room for an applicant to petition the board to move forward, a move that would be particularly helpful for Hilda Hurford, a Meadow Lane resident who was scheduled to raise her house several feet starting next month. Ms. Hurford, who was very emotional at the meeting, said she will be filing the petition for an exemption because the project planned for her house is not an aesthetic change but a necessity. She said she experienced extreme flooding twice in the past three years, including several feet of water in her house during Hurricane Sandy.

“I can’t believe you are doing this—what do you want me to do?” she pleaded tearfully.

Mr. Epley said the public hearing will be held open until a special hearing on September 4. He explained that the village cannot take action for or against the moratorium until after the Suffolk County Planning Commission grants permission to evaluate the village code as a local issue. The Planning Commission is next scheduled to meet in the afternoon on Thursday, September 4, and the village has tentatively scheduled a special meeting for that evening, at 6:30 p.m. in Village Hall to vote on a decision—a move that local attorney John Bennett vehemently opposes.

According to Mr. Bennett, who is currently representing 10 property owners who want to build homes in the village, the entire moratorium process has been a thinly veiled attack on his clients at 40 Meadow Lane, and the board has responded to political pressure from constituents, forcing the moratorium. The special meeting, he said, is ridiculous and scheduled to be before the next meeting of the Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation, eliminating any chance of his client getting a building permit before the moratorium goes into effect.

“This special meeting is clearly targeting certain applications,” he said. “This is clear proof of your unalloyed political agenda.”

Mr. DePetris denied that allegation, saying the special meeting has been scheduled to wrap up the public hearing so that it will not interfere with the already full agenda for the normally scheduled board of trustees meeting on September 11.

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