On paper, a 2,379-square-foot house on the South Fork may not seem outlandish, but place that house on a .17-acre lot in a flood zone with a raised swimming pool and decking in the middle of Ditch Plain in Montauk, and both neighbors and town planners have a problem.
A proposal for 29 Sanger Place, where an 864-square-foot beach cottage would be torn down to make room for the new house, also maxes out what is possible on the lot. Before a hearing in front of the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals on March 21, the owner, 29 Sanger L.L.C., was requesting 10 variances. A rear-yard setback variance for the pool and a lot-coverage variance had been withdrawn before the hearing after the architect amended the building plans.
“It looks like a big headline, ‘Hey, we need 10 variances,’ but when you dig a little deeper, all are caused by two things; a drastic change in elevation on the lot and the fact that we’re in a FEMA flood zone,” said Michael Sendlenski, a former East Hampton Town attorney who is representing the L.L.C.
A search with the New York Secretary of State shows Cary Goodwin of East Hampton as agent of the limited liability company. The cottage on the property now, built in 1968, is listed for rent at $10,000 a month.
Mr. Goodwin also purchased nearby 37 DeForest Road in late 2021.
The narrow lot on Sanger Place slopes from east to west. A retaining wall occupies a good portion of its eastern property line.
Mr. Sendlenski said the house was “very modest.” He pointed to other two-story houses in the neighborhood and said a “pyramid” variance was necessary only because of the lot constraints.
Because of Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations, the first floor of the house would be raised from its current 9.7 feet to 16 feet. The pool would be elevated to meet an elevated deck, which at 15 feet, would be a step down from the main floor of the house. The pool would feature a “zero edge,” or infinity design.
“Architecture 101 designs houses within the zoning and contours of the land,” said Roy Dalene, the chairman of the Z.B.A.
“You said it’s a reasonable request,” said Ed Johann, a board member, “but we’re talking about a 2,379-square-foot house in an area where a lot of houses are smaller, on a lot that constrains you in a way where it may not be possible to build that house. The fact is this is a fairly massive structure for the site, and we ask ourselves if a smaller house would be less of a problem.”
“You’re maxing it out to what it would be in regular zoning where the lot would be 20,000 square feet,” said Theresa Berger, another board member.
“We’re entitled to do that under the code,” said Mr. Sendlenski.
“We did have 18 public comment opposition letters on file,” said Mr. Dalene. “Can you address why this has caused such a large response?”
Mr. Sendlenski demurred, but Tyler Borsack, an environmental analyst with the town Planning Department, and a number of residents made it clear why so many are against the proposal.
“We have big concerns this decision is more important than this project in isolation,” said Doug Green, a neighbor on Sanger Place. “We believe it sets a precedent.” He mentioned the large house under construction where the East Deck Motel once stood. “I would believe that had to be approved, but many people find that to be something that doesn’t fit in the area.”
Mr. Green also mentioned 36 Sanger Place, which the town board included in a 2015 resolution about properties it wished to purchase from Suffolk County “to ensure permanent protection.” In 2017, 36 Sanger sold for $500,000; a house was built in 2019 and now Hedgerow Exclusive Properties has it listed for rent at $25,000 a month.
The community, Mr. Green said, felt left in the dark amid the rapid change.
Scott Wilson, director of land acquisition and management for the town, said in an email that while the town resolution cited by Mr. Green authorized a potential acquisition, and that East Hampton Town had hoped to buy it from the county, the sale never went through.
“The board should be comfortable with this level of development on all parcels in Ditch Plains if this application is approved, because it would set precedence,” said Mr. Borsack. “I can’t think of too many applications that had this number of variances in recent history.”
“You say you can’t do anything about the height and FEMA restrictions, but you could. You don’t need to make a two-story house,” said Christine Gallen, who lives on Sanger Place.
A potential roadblock to any development was brought up by Jaine Mehring. She wondered about the lot directly to the west of 29 Sanger, which contains phragmites, vegetation typically found in wetlands. She thought it should be reassessed.
At the meeting, Mr. Borsack said the property was inspected in 2016 and no wetlands were found, but “that could change in the future.”
In an email Mr. Borsack explained that wetlands are mapped when requested by homeowners. “There is no set time when they are done, since we need owners’ permission to go onto the property,” he wrote.
The Ditch Plains Association, which includes 600 homeowners, wrote a letter to the Z.B.A. opposing the plans. “In many ways, this application is representative of the onslaught of thoughtless maximized development that can be seen throughout the town. Developers and self-absorbed property owners have sought end runs around the zoning code in the interest of short-term profit or trophy homes at the expense of the greater community. It is also time for some in the local real estate community to refrain from being cheerleaders of this overdevelopment and to stop hyping a property’s maximum potential,” they wrote.
“After hearing some of these concerns, I’d like to get with the architect and homeowner and possibly address some,” said Mr. Sendlenski, who added that he would submit new plans.
The Z.B.A. decided to leave the hearing open for comment and scheduled 29 Sanger L.L.C. to be back on the agenda on April 25.