Office Put House Over Max

Likened to a Ping-Pong match

A couple who bought a house on Cove Hollow Road last year is ensnared in zoning code provisions that have left them and their attorney frustrated and incredulous.

At the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Friday, Charles and Karen Phillips watched as Leonard Ackerman, an attorney representing them, sparred with the board and with Linda Riley, the village’s attorney, over how to extract his clients from what the village’s building inspector likened to a Ping-Pong match.

Mr. Phillips is the chief executive officer of Infor, a company that specializes in enterprise software applications. He and his wife bought the house while still living in California. At the time, its certificate of occupancy stated that absent a variance, an unfinished attic on the second floor above a three-car garage must remain unfinished, and not become habitable space. Unaware of this, Mr. Phillips said, he hired a contractor to create an office and conference room in the space. The contractor expressed no objection to the work, which was completed before the family moved in.

“The space was there because it was a spec house you approved, the same exact footprint,” Mr. Phillips told the board. “I was in California. It was already approved, the space was there, we just finished it off. The footprint hasn’t expanded one inch at all.”

Upon discovery that the now-finished space resulted in a floor-area figure well over the maximum permitted, the couple applied for a variance to legalize the conversion of the attic. Their application was first heard at the board’s June 23 meeting, where members were disinclined to grant a variance they called substantial, and dismissive of the applicants’ argument. “You have to come back and substantially reduce it,” Lys Marigold, the board’s vice chairwoman, said at that meeting. “I can’t accept it.”

When the hearing was continued on Friday, the applicants had submitted an offer to remove a short corridor, bedroom, and full bathroom from the first floor, converting it to a screened-in porch, which would no longer be included in the floor area calculation. A half-bathroom adjacent to the office would also be removed, and the Phillipses offered a covenant stating that the office and conference room area would never become bedroom space, either now or under future owners.

These alterations would substantially reduce density, a goal of the village’s comprehensive plan, and the board appeared satisfied with the mitigation.

However, as a consequence of the proposed elimination of the first-floor living space, the basement would extend beyond the house’s footprint, which the village prohibited in a 2015 amendment to the zoning code. The couple would therefore be compelled to seek another variance.

Mr. Ackerman and Ms. Riley engaged in a lengthy debate over how to proceed. Mr. Ackerman proposed that his clients apply for a building permit for the first-floor conversion, which would likely be denied due to the condition it would create with respect to the basement, and then file for variance relief. But Ms. Riley told the board that “I’m going to be reluctant to recommend that you adopt as a condition something that you don’t know whether or not it can be approved. We’ve never adopted a condition that says, ‘You’ll apply for this, and if it gets denied you’ll do that.’ ”

To Mr. Ackerman, she suggested that he amend the application. Mr. Ackerman complained that this would effectively restart the process.

Ken Collum, the building inspector, addressed the board. “I’m not sure it’s fair . . . to keep bouncing them like a Ping-Pong ball back and forth,” he said. “We’re mitigating one variance and going to create another variance.” He pledged to process the building permit application within a week so that the variance application could proceed.

Ultimately, it was agreed that the applicants would file for a building permit that same day. “Hopefully, it will be rejected next week,” Mr. Ackerman said. “What do we do next?”

Ms. Riley asked that he submit a calculation of the basement area that would fall outside the house’s footprint and the proposed covenant for the office space. The process would be expedited, she said. The hearing was left open, to be revisited at the board’s meeting on Aug. 25.

Four determinations were announced. Howard Schultz, the executive chairman of Starbucks, and his wife, Sheri Kersch Schultz, were granted variances allowing construction of a beach storage shed and outdoor shower, both seaward of the coastal erosion hazard area and within the side-yard setback at 14 Gracie Lane. The structures also require a variance allowing lot coverage greater than is permitted under code.

The board granted Jim and Gretchen Johnson, owners of Nid de Papillon at 31 Old Beach Lane, a variance to construct a 27-foot-tall detached garage, where code limits a garage’s height to 20 feet. At a hearing last month, an attorney and architect told the board there were no accessory buildings on the property and the Johnsons were “long due” a structure that would provide a garage, storage space, and a pool house. The garage is to mimic the century-old house’s design.

Michael Derrig, who owns Landscape Details, was granted variances to construct water features, decking, walls, fencing, and stone walkways at 103 Montauk Highway, a former restaurant and nightclub in a residential district which he now owns and uses as a showroom and office for his business. Variances were required for lot coverage in excess of the maximum permitted; for one wall, which is to be seven feet tall where the maximum allowable height is six feet, and for a deck, water feature, and walkways that will fall within required setbacks.

The board granted Rosemary Brooke Wall variances to construct a 918-square-foot detached garage in a front yard, and within required setbacks; to construct a 198-square-foot addition within the rear-yard setback, and to legalize an air-conditioning condenser that is also within the required rear-yard setback.