Since June, East Hampton Village residents have submitted over 50 letters opposing an application to install a pool at the historic Huntting Inn. The zoning board of appeals has received zero letters of support for the application, though some residents expressed support for an aspect of the project that would provide accessibility for those with disabilities.
Landry’s, the national hospitality and restaurant group that owns the inn, asked the village Z.B.A. to adjourn the matter in August and September “to get more time to prepare supplemental materials to address the board’s comments at the last hearing,” said Ed Burke Jr., one of the lawyers representing Landry’s. “We are paying close attention to the neighbors’ comments in support and opposition, but the opposition was not the impetus for the adjournment requests.”
Mr. Burke said Landry’s had recently retained Joel Snodgrass of Steward Preservation Services L.L.C. in Huntington, to advise it about the inn’s timber frame. Landry’s hopes to install an elevator to make all floors of the inn accessible to those with disabilities, and the timber frame of the building could be impacted. Steward has only a barebones website and it was unclear if it had previous experience working in East Hampton Village.
Rounding out the application are two new patios and a hot tub. A previous application included cabanas, but was withdrawn after strong neighborhood opposition.
The reactions to the proposed pool show how the desires of the businesses are often at odds with the residential communities where they’re located, at least if they’re trying to expand past their already nonconforming status.
Back in 2018, there was talk about creating a zoning overlay district for the inns. The district would have made it easier for them to add amenities like spas and pools for their guests. The mayor at the time, Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., said the proposal would go nowhere, and was a “dead issue.”
Times have changed. Mayor Jerry Larsen has made revitalizing the business district a major goal of his administration, moving events into the heart of the village at Herrick Park and embracing a more business-friendly approach.
When it comes to the Huntting Inn, however, neighbors opposing the application almost uniformly express concern about losing something that can’t be regained: the “historic charm,” “quiet,” and “quaint appeal” of the village. The Huntting Inn has survived since 1699, why now, in 2023, is a pool suddenly necessary, many ask.
“We have already agreed to covenants with regard to the pool, hours, that there will be no amplified music, and a covenant for a retractable pool cover to eliminate concerns about nighttime illumination,” said Mr. Burke. “We’re also providing a 50-foot-wide vegetative buffer, where only 20 feet is required.” He argued that the pool wouldn’t be visible from either Huntting Lane or Main Street so wouldn’t detract from the aesthetic of the historic district. “Community is extremely important to the Landry Group. They are desirous to enhance the experience for the guests but do not want anything but what the community could be proud of.”
Landry’s has owned the inn since 2020. “With over 600 dining, entertainment, gaming locations nationwide, you’re sure to find the perfect experience for you and your family!” reads a message on the company’s website. In 2005, Landry’s purchased the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
“The pool is the problem and any additions to the building is a problem,” said Tiger Graham, a former village trustee and board member of the East Hampton Historical Society. “My feeling is people come out here to go to the ocean. If they’re coming out to go to a pool, why not go to Hempstead or the North Fork? Our ocean and beaches are our overwhelming summer attraction. Maybe someone hinted to them they could make these changes, but it’s hard to see it going through over the objections of all the neighbors.”
Mr. Graham also expressed an opinion echoed through the neighbors’ letters of opposition. Allowing the Huntting Inn to have a pool would mean that every other inn in the village would soon have a pool. “It’s like letting the camel’s nose into the tent. Pretty soon you have the whole camel in the tent with you,” he said.
“When the current owners purchased the inn, they were aware of the zoning restrictions,” Frank Newbold wrote in an Aug. 22 letter. “Allowing the expansion of the current use with a pool would set a precedent for other pre-existing nonconforming properties to copy.”
The Baker House installed a pool 18 years ago that did not require a variance. “You’ll find our infinity-edge pool artfully placed and often photographed,” boasts its website. However, the Hedges Inn, Maidstone Hotel, and 1770 House are all without pools.
While the Village Preservation Society of East Hampton won’t take an official public position on the project (two of its trustees, John McGuirk and Joe Rose, are on the Z.B.A.), Kathleen Cunningham, its executive director, wrote a letter to the Z.B.A. on July 14 in opposition. Apart from the problematic pool, she said, “Interior renovations have already been made without the appropriate permitting,” which “demonstrates the applicant’s ignorance and complete disregard of the importance of historic preservation to this community. This shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach to renovation in the village is tearing at the fabric of our collective historic identity, building by building.”
The public hearing is set to continue in front of the village Z.B.A. on Oct. 13.