Expansion of Historical Apaquogue House Considered

An application to alter an accessory building on a historically significant property gave the East Hampton Village Board plenty to consider when it met on Friday. 

John and Evelyn McNiff own property at 71 Apaquogue Road, which was once owned by the artist Hamilton King and his wife. In 1921, the Kings hired the architect Lewis Colt Albro to design a house incorporating the two fishermen’s cottages that stood on the property, according to “East Hampton’s Heritage: An Illustrated Architectural Record.” The architect joined the cottages with a long living room, covering the exterior surfaces with gray stucco. 

The building is now accessory to a main house and has pre-existing nonconforming status for residential use, with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchenette. The applicants want to add a 620.5-square-foot second story including an additional bedroom and bathroom and rearrange the first story layout. Trevor Darrell, an attorney, represented them before the Z.B.A.

Any expansion of a pre-existing nonconforming use requires a variance. The addition, and a terrace, would fall within the required 150-foot wetlands setback, creating a need for a variance, as would the addition’s being within the rear-yard setback and, at 24.5 feet high, above the height maximum. The couple also seeks variances to install a new septic system within the wetlands setback, although in a more conforming location than the existing system, and to construct a swimming pool within the side-yard setback. 

With clear concern about setting a precedent, Frank Newbold, the board’s chairman, focused on the degree of the accessory building’s proposed alteration. “The plans look pretty much like the entire building is being rebuilt,” he told Mr. Darrell. “The fireplace is being relocated, the roof height is going up, the whole fenestration is changing. Why isn’t this basically rebuilding a pre-existing nonconforming?” 

The foundation and first floor will not change, Mr. Darrell replied. “The construction is going to be a remodel, not a teardown and rebuild,” he said. The kitchenette, however, would be removed as unnecessary because one family occupies the property. The accessory building includes “sleeping quarters, yes, but not living quarters, if that makes sense. It’s going to be used for the family, amongst themselves,” Mr. Darrell said.

The zoning code dictates that pre-existing nonconforming uses cannot be expanded absent a compelling reason, Mr. Newbold said. “You can imagine our concern is the precedent, that everybody that has a pre-existing cottage would say, ‘I would love to add a bedroom there. I would love to raise the roof height a few feet to make it more comfortable.’ ”

Even with the addition, however, the floor area would be approximately 3,000 square feet under the maximum allowed in the code, Mr. Darrell said. The applicants seek only an additional bedroom, he said, and want to accomplish that by using structures that already exist on the property, rather than “demolish all of them and build one giant house at 9,000-something square feet in the major, wide-open space,” as he suggested many others would do. 

Any changes to a pre-existing nonconforming building should be as minimal as possible, Mr. Newbold said. He and other board members asked if the building’s proposed height could be reduced. The pre-existing cottage is now more than 19 feet high, and would rise to around 24 with a second-story addition, but the code limits the height of accessory buildings to 14 feet.

Kim Hovey, who owns neighboring property, addressed the board. “I just have a concern about the volume increase” and about privacy. “Up on the second floor I have a balcony off the master,” she said, adding that another concern is a row of arborvitae planted one year ago close to the proposed septic system. She asked that the applicants agree to replace any trees that die as a consequence of the construction or placement of a new system. 

Ms. Hovey also echoed Mr. Newbold’s concern about altering a pre-existing nonconforming structure. “I would like the applicant to prove why they need that,” she said of the proposed addition, “because it is making it more nonconforming.”

“We need to be convinced,” Mr. Newbold said to Mr. Darrell, “that there’s no alternative location, that this is the minimum that can be done to the structure to achieve what you want, that the neighbor’s concerns as to visibility . . . all that has been addressed.” The hearing was left open and is to be on the agenda at its next meeting, on Dec. 8. 

Three determinations were announced at the meeting. Lee Fixel, a partner at the New York investment company Tiger Global Management, was granted a variance allowing the reconstruction of a tennis court within the required side-yard setback at 226 Further Lane. The board also reversed previous denials of building permits for a proposed garage and a pool house. Over the course of the hearing on the application, Mr. Fixel, who purchased the property for $57.3 million last year, had amended it to eliminate variance requests related to the principal dwelling.  

Richard and Kim Slater of 142 Cove Hollow Road were granted a variance to construct a 576-square-foot detached garage in the front yard, where the zoning code prohibits one closer to the front lot line than the principal building. The variance was granted on the conditions that the garage’s second-level storage space be accessible only by a pull-down stairway and that the garage include no plumbing. 

The board also granted Elizabeth Ellers variances to construct a generator within the front-yard setback at 19 Pudding Hill Lane.