In a unanimous decision, the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals has granted Daniel and Pernilla Ammann permission to remove three 1950s-era beach cottages from properties they own on Sammy’s Beach Road and construct a new, glassy, 4,652-square-foot house.
“This project required a deep look,” said Roy Dalene, the chairman of the board. In explaining their reasoning, the board leaned heavily on a Nov. 20 letter submitted by Rick Whalen, attorney for the Ammanns, titled, “Rebuttal to Objector’s Comments.”
Over 20 letters and emails were sent to the Z.B.A. against the proposal, on top of the opposition of six neighbors who spoke at a Sept. 26 public hearing. Jaine Mehring, the newest member of the Z.B.A., was among the critics at the September hearing, and as a result, she recused herself from the vote.
“Not one of the writers really understands what the Ammanns are proposing, and their letters or other submissions are filled with errors, exaggerations, or simple misstatements,” Mr. Whalen wrote. “If the zoning board were to do what most people commenting on the Ammann project seem to ask — to deny the application — the environment on and adjacent to Sammy’s Beach would be worse off, not better.”
The three cottages, all built before zoning rules were enacted, are on three separate lots, which will be merged. On the combined parcel, the new project will require three variances. Mr. Dalene, using Mr. Whalen’s analysis, noted that if three houses were developed on the lots, rather than just one, between 19 and 21 variances would be needed.
What is important may be that the new house will be built farther away from the beach, and a new low-nitrogen septic system will be installed. Mr. Dalene not only saw those changes as environmental benefits, but also addressed the new structure’s impact on sightlines, noting that it is also the Z.B.A.’s job to protect scenic vistas.
“I think they nestled the new house quite nicely into that landscape. The impact on the vista is small,” he said. “I come out thinking that this is a good application, much more conforming, which is what zoning is all about.” Ed Johann, another board member, agreed, saying, “This doesn’t look like something we’re going to be sorry about later on.”
Board members were also impressed by the project’s strict “construction protocol.” There will be only a single access point, for example. Mr. Dalene said the construction plan should accompany the building permit, to help ensure it is followed. “We understand how it can spread out,” Mr. Johann said.
“The building department should be very aware about how strict we’re being with how this project is actually implemented,” said Denise Savarese, a board member. Theresa Berger highlighted a scenic easement being offered by the Ammanns on land across the street, which they also own. “I think that’s a plus, too,” she said.
A week after the Jan. 16 approval, however, neighbors on Sammy’s Beach Road notified the zoning board that the road had washed out in a heavy storm, and continued to question the wisdom of such a large project on the narrowest spit of land separating Gardiner’s Bay from Three Mile Harbor. “My biggest concern besides the total coverage (house and decking) of fragile dune ecology, and precedent, is that the Climate Emergency Resolution is supposed to inform all Town decisions,” wrote Gail Pellett, who lives on the road, in an email. “We need to make that a law. It is only a resolution.”
“The excavation and construction project approved by the Z.B.A. will result in damage to the ecosystem, where native plants and trees anchor the dunes, nourish the soil biome, and provide a bulwark against excessive rainfall, runoff, and powerfully destructive wind and waves,” wrote Nancy Erber, also a resident of Sammy’s Beach Road, in a letter to The Star published last week.
Mr. Whalen, in his letter, pointed to an application by John and Claudia Donovan, who received Z.B.A. approval for their Sammy’s Beach Road house in 2019. He noted that their house was 2,462 feet, on a lot that was “about 57 percent as large as the combined Ammann property. Yet no one, as I recall, complained about the Donovan project. The Donovan project set a precedent, which the Ammanns are following, that new homes along the Sammy’s Beach shore should retreat landward.”
The Ammanns, he added, “are entitled to ask for a larger house in connection with the environmental improvements they are making to the property.”
But Ms. Erber questioned, in her letter to The Star, if covering a dune with structures could be seen as a lasting environmental improvement. “In the endless contest between human-built structures on the shoreline and the forces of nature, which one are you betting on?”