East Hampton Town Says Think Small

House-size proposal draws an impassioned response

A change in East Hampton Town’s zoning code that would reduce the maximum size of houses relative to the size of their lots is not just a matter of square footage, Jeffrey Freireich, the head of the East Hampton Business Alliance, told the town board at a hearing on that and related laws last Thursday. 

“You need to stop ... legislation restricting housing and restricting industry and restricting business,” he told board members. “Let’s stop trying to restrict the size of housing and the attractiveness of the area to people.” 

Kieran Brew, an Amagansett resident, suggested the measure would have little impact and was too late. “Why bother?” he asked. “I don’t think it’s going to achieve the effect. I think we should just leave it alone. We went through a long process years ago.”

Much of the impetus for the proposed code change stemmed from houses viewed as oversized being built on lanes in Amagansett. “The horse is out of the barn,” Mr. Brew said. 

“There are far too many homes that are out of proportion to their lot sizes,” which are changing the character of the town, responded Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell. “So to me, it’s an important townwide issue.” The size reduction under consideration, he said, is “a modest proposal” that is “fair and reasonable.” 

“We are not [East Hampton] village,” said Tina Piette of Springs. Both there and in Sag Harbor Village, she said, officials made an extensive study of the impact of reducing maximum house size before crafting new laws. 

Britton Bistrian said she was not against the legislation, necessarily, but supported a study, hamlet by hamlet and of particular neighborhoods, of its potential impact. 

The reduction would have a financial impact on property owners, said Martin Drew of Springs. “These draconian measures are not in my family’s best interest, or your family’s best interest,” he said. 

Rona Klopman of Amagansett supported the change. “I want it more restrictive,” she said. So does Ed Geus of East Hampton. “I believe it should be more far-reaching,” he said. “You must keep pushing as hard as possible to keep it the town we know and love.” 

Under the current code, a residence can occupy 12 percent of its lot plus 1,600 square feet, or a maximum of 20,000-square-feet, whichever is less. 

Under the new law, if approved, the limit would be 10 percent of lot size plus 1,600 square feet, with the 20,000 square foot maximum, whichever is less. 

Also proposed is a change to the definition of “gross floor area.” Areas where ceilings are under five feet high would not be counted toward a building’s gross floor area, but areas where ceiling heights are higher than 15 feet would be counted twice toward the G.F.A. maximum.

On that, said Mr. Freireich, there is no need “to restrict and penalize people who want to build architecturally beautiful homes.” The town needs to encourage people to come here and spend money, he said, and should avoid enacting “further disincentives” for the building and trade industries. 

Ms. Piette asked whether the code changes would apply to both residential and commercial properties, and was told they would. She then questioned why the board would proceed with changes affecting commercial sites while the hamlet studies — a planning effort centered on the town’s commercial areas — are still underway. 

Parts of the proposed code changes contradict state and international building codes, Ms. Bistrian suggested. They should remain consistent, she said. 

David Buda, another speaker from Springs, said the town code can be more restrictive than those other codes, but should use the same terminology, so as to avoid ambiguity.

Others raised questions about how the changes would apply to and affect buildings within historic districts, or renovations to them, and about how they might apply to projects already underway. 

The board will discuss that situation, Mr. Cantwell said, and will grandfather projects midway through renovations from having to be redesigned.