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The Real Issue in a Fight Over Paint

Wed, 03/27/2024 - 18:11


Rowdy Hall, the Amagansett restaurant formerly of East Hampton Village, has settled its beef with the town over the paint on its facade, but this should not put to rest the more general question of what is appropriate and who gets to say so when it comes to land use and redevelopment.

The issue in the Rowdy Hall matter was whether its signature black and gold would fit in with the standards of the Amagansett Main Street Historic District. The town architectural board members had said no in October, touching off what passes for a hot controversy for Amagansett in the fall. Not taking no for an answer, Rowdy’s owners figured the heck with it and went ahead and painted it black, disingenuously claiming that the tint was simply primer. Then they went to court to appeal the A.R.B. decision. In the end, the owners agreed that, going forward, they would get permission for any more changes, but they got to keep the black.

Rowdy Hall’s brief conflict with town authorities was front-page news in this newspaper more than once, but going beyond the headlines, it raised the issue of whether the regulations now on the books here are up to the task of preserving our cherished sense of place. We, along with a growing proportion of residents, believe that they are not.

Aggressive stretching of the town zoning code has become common, especially now that eight-figure speculative house construction backed by corporate and private investors has taken off. Though many of us complain about all the horrendous spec building going on in highly visible places, the town has been slow to adapt. A town committee is working on revising the rules. Its members are focusing on the size of proposed houses relative to the pieces of land on which they would sit, as well as their effect on infrastructure and the environment. And, while the Rowdy Hall paint might have seemed to some a silly fight to have, the underlying concept was dead serious.

Taming the size and horizontal spread of new construction and additions seems the key factor. Though the town has imposed new energy-conservation rules, better standards on ever-bigger houses weaken its good intentions. As a start, the town must strongly discourage extra-large building on environmentally sensitive lots — such as those subject to natural resources special permit restrictions. With the natural resources permit conditions already defined in the town code, tougher rules might rapidly be applied. For example, properties in a natural resources permit zone could be subject to new rules doubling setbacks to reduce the impacts to already-defined sensitive places. Related is the relentless expansion of so-called pre-existing, nonconforming properties; limits intended to prevent their growth have been ineffective.

A few gallons of black paint make little difference in the long run, but how land is used going forward is of huge importance. Change has to come from the top. We hope that the town board is ready to go well beyond what the law requires now with an eye to saving what’s left.

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