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In Basements, a Push and Pull

Thu, 09/16/2021 - 10:00


In 2015, when East Hampton Village officials took on a growing trend of extra-large residential basements, their concern was that the extra living space brought with it a range of complications. At the time, it was observed that almost all construction was designed to reach the maximum square footage allowed under the law. On narrow streets, bigger houses were seen as a legitimate problem, bringing more people and cars, and greater congestion, in part from the additional maintenance required. “The village in the summer can hardly handle any more cars,” Lys Marigold, a member of the zoning board at the time, said. “It’s a stretch on our ecosystem. . . . If each house on all these streets goes from three to six bedrooms, what is going to be the long-term implication?” Considering these issues, the village board passed a law that restrained basements to the area covered by the houses above them.

Now, with what could be called a business-sympathetic village board, that rule is to be overturned. Its replacement would allow basements up to 25 percent larger than first floors, thereby increasing the number of square feet that can be claimed in a real estate listing.

Just how many monster basements are built as a result of the change remains to be seen. Yet it points to an underlying tension about who village government is working for — the people who live here or those who want to squeeze the most money possible from here.

Bigger houses require more services and generate a heavier load for the environment to carry. People talk about affordable housing, but fail to look at the demand created as growth continues unabated. A sense of the public good would suggest that this is a time for building less, but when it comes to money, the public good is collateral damage. As ever, quality of life is in the balance, as the two extremes are rarely compatible. More and ever-grander home building changes the very nature of the village by eroding its charming streetscapes in the quest for the biggest bucks. It is unfortunate that in a week when the village is celebrating its centenary, its elected leadership at every opportunity is on the side that would change it for the worse.

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