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What Was Built and What Should Have Been

Wed, 11/22/2023 - 09:31
The East Hampton Town Planning Board at its Nov. 15 meeting
LTV East Hampton

A sidewalk to nowhere and an asphalt berm blocking access to a parking lot are only the two biggest problems with the recently built Beckmann Commercial Building at 94 South Euclid Avenue in Montauk, an East Hampton Town planner told planning board members at their Nov. 15 meeting, where the construction was the main topic of discussion.

The building has other issues as well, said Tina Vavilis LaGarenne, the assistant planning director. There are five additional departures from the way the building was constructed versus how it was approved, she said. Somehow the original approval did not include a grading or drainage plan. Had one been included, “We would have had a better understanding of what was built versus what was supposed to be built,” she said.

The building, which is two feet higher than planned, exists as a sort of hovering island. Were it not for a large tree in front of it, it might even look worse, said Ms. Vavilis LaGarenne. “It’s not in the interests of good planning to have a mismatch of elevations between a particular site and its surrounding neighbors.”

It was the repaving and regrading of a town-owned alley that connects the building to adjacent parcels, that brought out neighbors and that poses the biggest issue. Every member of the planning board said it needs to be dealt with, and soon.

“I don’t think there’s anything in the code that allows a curb to be put in that would alienate a neighboring property,” said Ian Calder-Piedmonte, a planning board member. “I get why that lip was put there, to prevent flooding, but that surely doesn’t seem fair to that neighbor.”

(Imagine if a neighbor installed a curb at the mouth of your driveway, making it impossible for you to pull in and park. That is the reality now for those who use 809 and 813 Montauk Highway, which are both accessed by the alleyway.)

While it wasn’t a public hearing, Samuel Kramer, the board chairman, said in this instance members were open to comment from those who might be able to tell them about any other conditions they may not be aware of.

Lee Bearse was armed with such knowledge. Her parents, she told the board, had owned the properties at 809 and 813 Montauk Highway, which are accessed by the alleyway, for 80 years. At one point, one of the properties, which was created in a 1926 subdivision, was a gas station that her father had to move from Montauk Point, “because the Army had taken his land.”

“Filling on the site occurred,” she said, referring to 94 South Euclid, “which changed the natural slope of the land.” The raised foundation meant that the sidewalk and the alleyway were both higher than the surrounding grade. “We were able to drive in and park our cars at 809 and 813 [Montauk Highway] my entire life,” she said.  She wants the roadway reconstructed, “to allow us to drive in as we’ve always done.”

Another new concern, she said, is the potential for flooding from 94 Euclid, a very sloped property, into an adjacent town parking lot. “We now have a huge swale that’s going to direct all the water down this raised grade, causing flooding and icing, all of which has never existed at any time prior.”

Tom McMorrow, who rents an apartment from Ms. Bearse at 813 Montauk Highway, was angry. “Throughout this construction process the owner at 94 South Euclid promised that we would have access when this was over,” he said. “This is an abomination, what’s been done.” The day they were paving, he said, “I could manage to toboggan down” to his usual spot. When he learned the paving wasn’t finished, he said, he moved his car. “Thank God I did. Because if I hadn’t taken that car away it would still be there. You can’t get up and down, you can’t get past this thing!”

Drew Bennett, the consulting engineer for the applicant, said he’d been working on the project for 14 years. The lot was challenging due to grade changes. At some point in 2022, to save money, he said — the owner decided to do a modular construction. During construction, the excavator got nervous about placing the building in a hole of sorts. Mr. Bennett said they always knew there would be a steep grade, and that it would be planted out to be stable. “Contractors, others, somebody, decided well, that’s not really a great idea, let’s play it safe, let’s raise the building.”

They wanted to raise it a foot, he said, but after a mason’s error, “It’s actually 2.3 feet. It is where it is.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Bennett argued, the building itself works. Front and back entrances are A.D.A. accessible. However, because the building was raised, the alley picked up slope. Instead of paving the slope, the pavers leveled it. “Our plans never specified what the elevations were on the other side of the alley,” Mr. Bennett said.

“When they raised the building for fear of being in a hole,” they also created a problem with the sidewalks. The front sidewalk is three feet above the neighboring lot’s sidewalk. It was obviously an issue, but Mr. Bennett said the 2010 A.D.A. design requirements don’t require sidewalks between two private properties to be accessible.

He offered three solutions: leave it as it is, install a switchback ramp, or add a small staircase. A majority of the board thought the staircase the best option, despite the fact that it couldn’t be A.D.A. accessible.

Mr. Calder-Piedmonte, who was on the planning board when the project was first approved, was dismayed. “I don’t think we have a clear solution,” he said. “I feel bad about it. You never want something developed in a way that misses the mark.”

Mr. Kramer said it wasn’t the alleyway, sidewalks, or other assorted issues that bothered him most. “The number-one problem is that the plans that this board approved were not followed.”

“We have some ideas, and we hope to work it out with the neighbor,” said Mr. Bennett.

A local veterinarian, a Dr. Molly, will eventually occupy the building.

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