Actors’ Second Try for Retroactive Okay

An attorney representing Mariska Hargitay and Peter Hermann, actors who met on the television series “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” returned to the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals on Friday, nine months after the board denied the couple’s request to legalize a tree house that is within required setbacks at 31 Cottage Avenue. The board also had turned down requests to legalize a swing set and playing court within the setbacks and to permit 63 square feet more floor area in an accessory building than the maximum allowed, although it did okay a slate walkway within a setback. 

This time, said Andy Hammer, an attorney, the couple wants to relocate and legalize the tree house, which was constructed without a building permit. They would like a variance to allow the 63 square feet of excess floor area, and another for the tree house to remain 18 feet high, four feet above the maximum for an accessory building.

When the board rejected most of the application in January, it told the couple to remove the playing court and relocate the tree house and swing set. “That hasn’t happened yet,” Frank Newbold, the board’s chairman, said on Friday. 

“We did submit a building permit to do it, thinking we could do it as of right,” Mr. Hammer said. “However, we couldn’t” because the Building Department said relocating the tree house would require a variance. 

“The turn-down letter from the Building Department wasn’t dated till June 9,” Mr. Newbold noted. “The applicant had another summer to use these improvements.” Moreover, he said that calling the structure a tree house was “a little misleading. . . . This is an 18-foot-high structure, it has a staircase that leads up to it, it has walls, it has a roof. . . . It’s basically being bolted to a tree, it’s not really a tree house. It’s a free structure, it’s a playhouse.” 

Board members appeared divided, but a majority seemed inclined to once again reject the application. The property has many outbuildings already, Mr. Newbold said, including a pre-existing, legal guest house, a pool house, and a pre-existing, nonconforming shed. “It has already been the beneficiary of a lot of variances. The question is, is not having a play structure that requires two variances . . . a hardship?” 

The other structures conform to code, Mr. Hammer said. “I think what Frank was trying to say is that it’s one acre,” Lys Marigold, vice chairwoman of the board, said, “and it’s already loaded with so many accessory structures.” 

The property complies with the coverage limit, Mr. Hammer said, calling the tree house “not adaptable to any other use . . . that’s why it’s located where it’s located, because it’s underneath the tree canopy and it’s a place for the children to play.” He called the variances sought minimal. “Technically, the reason you would deny it is adverse impact to somebody. . . . I can’t put my finger on who would be affected.” 

“It’s the precedent of the height,” Craig Humphrey, a board member, said, “not the structure itself.” 

If the tree house could be redesigned to meet the height limit, Mr. Newbold said, “then we would be able to cut the number of variances requested in half.” Mr. Hammer said the structure’s peaked roof could be eliminated, or the entire structure, which he said is about 11 feet tall, could be lowered and the staircase shortened, though that would leave it just two or three feet off the ground. 

The hearing was left open so that Mr. Hammer could consult with his clients. It is to come up again at the board’s next meeting, on Friday, Oct. 27. 

One determination was announced at the meeting. The board granted Richard Brockman’s request for variances to allow the construction of an addition to the grand Tudor building at 64 Huntting Lane, which will fall within the required rear-yard setback. A request to legalize a patio within the front-yard setback also was granted. 

Known as the Woodhouse Playhouse, the 1917 building was converted to residential use in 1948. The property is in the Huntting Lane historic district, and the proposed addition also requires approval by the design review board.