Thumbs Down on Perelman Proposal for the Creeks

Ronald Perelman had asked East Hampton Village to upzone the Creeks, his nearly 60-acre estate at East Hampton Village’s western edge. Hampton Pix

This story has been updated with the version that appeared in print on June 22. 

Ronald Perelman, the billionaire investor and philanthropist who owns the legendary 60-acre estate called the Creeks on Georgica Pond, lost his bid to change the residential zoning of the property on Friday when the East Hampton Village Board voted unanimously against it.

A small army of lawyers had put Mr. Perelman’s proposal before the board three months ago. One of them, Christopher Kelley, called it a “creative solution” to bring a number of structures on the grounds into compliance with the zoning code.

The structures had been found in March 2012 to have been built without benefit of building permits, a discovery made only when a fire took Ken Collum, a volunteer firefighter who is now the village’s building inspector, to the estate. That revelation, and what Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. described as “a dragging of the feet” ever since in failing to resolve the violations, had annoyed board members.

To bring the structures into compliance, the creation of a new residential district with minimum lots of 240,000 square feet was proposed. The Creeks, the westernmost property in the village, is presently zoned now for parcels of a minimum of 160,000 square feet. Such a district would result in low-density development, Mr. Kelley had told the board, and allow his client to maintain multiple residences on “a family compound.”

Mr. Kelley said there were three existing residences on the property, two of which would be legalized through Mr. Perelman’s proposal. Multiple accessory buildings had been also constructed or expanded without building permits. Mr. Perelman was promising that the future density of the estate would never exceed nine single-family residences, Mr. Kelley said, as well as the “vast improvement of existing and future environmental conditions on the property,” including the replacement of 17 septic systems, some of which may not now have permits from the Suffolk County Health Department, with state-of-the-art denitrification systems.

On Friday, June Lester, the board’s secretary, read aloud its finding that “the proposal is generally inconsistent with the village’s comprehensive plan, including the village’s open-space plan, and generally inconsistent with established good planning principles.” The decision also stated that the board was under no obligation to continue its review, and “declines to proceed with any further review of the petition for a change of zone.” Board members did not comment.

The extensive grounds of the Creeks run down to Georgica Pond, where nitrogen seepage is blamed for the harmful algal blooms that have afflicted it in recent years. On June 9, the East Hampton Town Trustees ordered the pond closed after receiving a report of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, from Suffolk officials.

Mr. Perelman’s representatives had also said he would install permeable reactive barriers to prevent unfiltered effluent and groundwater leaching into the pond; fund measures recommended by the scientist who has been studying the pond, create vegetative buffers along the shoreline and along Montauk Highway, reduce or eliminate phragmites, and preserve as many uncleared areas as possible through scenic easements.

Richard Warren, an environmental, land-use, and development consultant, had also testified in March that under current zoning, subdividing the property could yield 13 lots — “significant development potential” — while the proposed district would allow 9.

Mayor Rickenbach said after Friday’s meeting that he hoped the matter would not be the subject of a lawsuit. “I think there’s been some good-faith movement on the side of Mr. Perelman to try to resolve all the outstanding issues in an amicable fashion,” he said, adding that “the owner of record is going to have to come into compliance on numerous points of interest” with respect to the County Health Department and the State Department of Environmental Conservation. “That’s where we’re going to hold his feet to the fire,” he said.

Josh Vlasto, an attorney representing Mr. Perelman, emailed a statement to The Star on Tuesday. “We look forward to continuing to work with the village,” it said.