The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously to deny a second request by Farrell Builders for a natural resources special permit that would have allowed the developer to demolish a beach cottage at 175 Atlantic Avenue in Amagansett and build a new 3,240-square-foot residence, pool, and accessory structures in the dunes abutting the beach parking lot.
According to the town code, to gain the special permit a builder must meet several standards, including the preservation of natural resources.
“All structures and uses shall be located on upland and shall be located so that no natural resource, feature, or system will be diminished in size, polluted, degraded, or lost, or placed in peril thereof, in order to establish such structure or use.”
After Farrell’s original application was denied a natural resources special permit in 2019, the developer sued the Z.B.A. Farrell resubmitted an amended application last summer.
However, the Z.B.A. found the amended application didn’t come close to addressing the concerns of its 2019 determination.
“The house can be drastically reduced to preserve more of the dunescape, as was intended by the zoning board’s determination,” said Roy Dalene, the board chairman.
Liz Vail, the attorney representing Farrell, was not pleased, accusing the board in a strongly worded 18-page letter dated Dec. 20, of acting in “bad faith.”
She also alleged discrimination, saying board members were “improperly swayed by the numerous letters in opposition not only to the revised application in this case but the applicant itself, Farrell Building Corporation.”
“We submit, that this board’s treatment of Farrell Building Corporation is markedly different than all other applicants that have come before it,” she wrote.
At least 22 town residents submitted letters against the application and many more spoke out against it at the public hearing on Dec. 6. No one from the public spoke in support.
“The name of the developer was inconsequential to our decision,” said Mr. Dalene, the board chair, adding that the board had recently denied an application on Gerard Drive for similar reasons.
Ms. Vail also took a direct swipe at Jaine Mehring, an Amagansett resident whose website build.in.kind.com has educated residents about large-scale building projects and how they may interact with the town’s appointed boards.
“She appears to be trying her hand at advocacy in her opposition to multiple projects throughout Amagansett,” wrote Ms. Vail.
“I have to ask, how different is this proposal really?” said Joan McGivern, a board member, when giving her reasons for denying the application. “Substantively speaking the original proposal was for 3,790 square feet with a footprint of approximately 1,800 square feet; the new proposal was for 3,240 square feet with 550 square feet of storage, but that adds up to 3,790 square feet.”
She said the original Z.B.A. determination of 2019 was clear; they wanted a smaller footprint.
“In essence the footprint is still too big and overall massing remains a problem,” she concluded.
Ed Johann, another board member, took issue with Ms. Vail’s assertion that the Board was unduly swayed by the public. “I believe we have weighed these comments carefully and have not allowed them to unduly sway our decision that we have and will make on the application.”
He said Farrell basically submitted the same residence as it had previously, with slight improvements around the edges, that didn’t really address the decreased footprint and massing that the Z.B.A. asked for before it would agree to granting the natural resources special permit.
“It has not gone far enough in pulling back the scale of the entire project,” agreed Theresa Berger, a board member who also voted against the original application in 2019. She read through the code and pointed out exactly where the project failed to meet the standards required for the Z.B.A. to grant the permit.
“It still needs to be pulled back much more on the scale, on everything,” she said.
“At the risk of repeating everything that was just said, I think it’s important to repeat everything that’s just been said,” said Denise Savarese, a board member. “It’s still a very aggressive redevelopment in a duneland.” She also highlighted the length of the driveway, at 1,784 feet, and questioned whether it could accommodate emergency vehicles.
Mr. Dalene said the 2019 determination was an “important decision and should not be looked at lightly” and that the town code was very specific in its intent and methods of protecting natural resources. He accused the applicant of “diminishing the public. Even though they’re not property owners, I do believe it’s the town’s intent to protect these natural vistas.”
In 2010, the Town and Village of East Hampton inventoried “endangered scenic landscapes” and developed strategies to reduce the likelihood that they would disappear altogether. Farrell’s parcel, which was purchased in 2017, falls squarely within one of these Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance.
“The sprawling design of the project and its impacts on the native vegetation and duneland is contradictory to the recommendation of the S.A.S.S. guidelines,” said Mr. Dalene. “I don’t think that’s changed.”