The East Hampton Village Board voted unanimously on Nov. 19 to relax rules limiting the size of cellars in houses, a controversial issue in past years.
Deputy Mayor Christopher Minardi came out strongly in favor of relaxing those limitations, to allow a homeowner’s basement to exceed the gross floor area of the house’s first floor by 25 percent.
“All of our neighboring hamlets allow this — it’s not something new,” he said. He characterized the code change as “a very minimal rollback so we don’t further restrict our residents on what they can and cannot do on their property.”
Mr. Minardi sought to ease the concerns of residents about extra-large cellars by pointing to restrictions already included in the code. “Property owners still need to abide by their setbacks and coverage restrictions,” he said.
Mayor Jerry Larsen clarified which elements of a structure would count toward the definition of “coverage.”
“The underground structure will not count toward coverage,” he said. “The piece that sticks out from the first-floor footprint, as long as it remains underground, will not count toward coverage.”
In the past, some residents seemed concerned that homeowners might try to abuse the new code by adding bedrooms in their cellars.
“The worst-case scenario would be, someone has a room that sticks out underground from a property that doesn’t have any windows, or egress, so it can’t be an extra bedroom, Mr. Minardi said. So it would be a utility room, a storage room, someplace for things they wanted to take out of their basement to make room for something else.”
Billy Hajek, the village planner, added, “There’s a compelling point to be made that if something is covered by grass, it doesn’t count as coverage. Same thing as a septic system or leaching well. We don’t count them as coverage. So, along the same lines, we’re exempting these expanded basement footprints from coverage.”
Despite the objection of two village residents who wrote emails in opposition to the code change, it was unanimously approved by the board.
The board also voted against allowing cannabis dispensaries and consumption establishments within the village. The measure was approved with neither discussion from the board nor comment from the community.
On March 31, the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act was signed into law in New York State, legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana and setting the framework for cannabis to be sold. The law allows villages and municipalities to opt out of sales should they so choose, and the board did just that.
However, the measure is subject to a 30-day permissive referendum. That means a certain percentage of village residents who voted in the most recent gubernatorial race can petition the board within that time period to challenge its decision.
Also on Nov. 19, the board passed a resolution to install outdoor lighting at village windmills. Arthur Graham, a trustee, questioned the use of “up-lighting,” pointing out that it is against village code, and proposed making an exception to the code for the windmills. Marcos Baladron, village administrator, countered that it might not apply since the lighting will be “onto the building itself.”