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Huntting Inn Keeps Pool Plan Afloat

Wed, 05/15/2024 - 20:34
In addition to wanting a pool, the Huntting Inn is seeking permission for a three-story elevator, which would make all floors of the timber-frame building handicapped-accessible
Carissa Katz

The Huntting Inn, appearing before the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals on Friday, announced no substantial changes to its application regarding a pool and hot tub, and for neighbors, that is a problem. Those two items are and have long been their main point of contention.

Three years after the plan was first proposed, Paige Fertitta, the wife of Tilman Fertitta, who owns the inn through Landry’s Inc,, a hospitality company that operates some 600 hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues throughout the U.S., was on hand that day, with her daughter, Blayne.

“This property, the Huntting Inn, is important to us as a family,” she said. “I know we are a big, large, casino and hotel company, but this property we saw in the beginning as a little gift, a little gem, that came when we purchased the Palm.” Mr. Fertitta is the president and chief executive officer of Landry’s.

Since 2020, said Ms. Fertitta, when the company purchased the inn for $45 million, her daughter has spent “countless hours” taking trips to the village and getting to “know the community.” She mentioned the importance of the neighbors and the community several times.

To the neighbors, the pair’s coming in person before the Z.B.A. seemed to matter little. They have steadfastly opposed a pool at the commercial operation, and neither Martha Reichert, an attorney representing the inn, nor Ms. Fertitta indicated that the pool would be dropped from the application.

“We hope the board will listen to many neighbors and community members who have written in to object to this proposal,” said Brent Feigenbaum, who lives right next to the inn. “More than 50 neighbors and concerned residents have written to the Z.B.A. opposing the pool. I believe this to be the largest public opposition in the village’s history.”

Mr. Feigenbaum suggested that a precedent would be set if the application were approved. “Commercial pools up and down Main Street would clearly change the character of the village,” he said. Gesturing to Ms. Fertitta, he allowed that “they have done a tremendous job with the landscaping so far, and improvements to the property, but the pool is the issue.”

Besides the pool, the inn has applied to install a three-story elevator, which would make all floors of the timber-frame building handicapped-accessible, and to add two new patios. Redesigned walkways and entrance ramps would also need retroactive approval for interior changes already made to rooms on the second and third floors.

Matthew Grinnell of Huntting Lane told the board he had once lived next to the Maidstone Arms. At first, he said, all was well, but when the hotel was sold to new owners, “we were calling the police so frequently my wife became on a first-name basis with [Village Police Chief] Mike Tracey. The village ultimately sued the new owners. We joined that suit, but eventually we gave up. It was so unpleasant that we sold the house to the new owners . . . I worry that in granting this application you’re setting up a neighbor for a terrible experience like that, and I wouldn’t want that to happen to anybody else.”

Mr. Grinnell continued: “The board is rightly concerned with some activity that is happening at another inn, The Hedges,” where Zero Bond, a private club in Manhattan, is said to be negotiating for a lease. “If the new owners really want to become part of the community, they might consider what can they do off-season . . . and not only improve their own business but make the village the year-round experience we’re all hoping it becomes.”

Joan Denny, who also lives on Huntting Lane, read a letter on behalf of another resident, Lisa Dortch, which cited the zoning code. “The code states no variance shall be granted to permit the introduction of any outdoor use, including outdoor dining, to a pre-existing commercial use in a residential district,” she read. “Subsequently, there can be no way a pool or a spa, which expands outdoor use, can be permitted by this board if the board is ruling in accordance with the village code.” If the board could not be relied on, Ms. Dortch wrote, “Why do we have a zoning board at all?”

Martha Reichert, an attorney representing the inn, argued, however, that the pool was not an introduction of a new use. “If we were proposing a recreational facility or a swim club, right? But this is not a new outdoor use, this is, rather, an accessory use to the inn.” State courts had ruled on such issues previously, she said. “Pre-existing nonconforming uses are entitled to their accessory uses.”

With the board’s approval of the application, Ms. Reichert promised, the inn would happily covenant a new planting plan, which she briefly discussed with the board.

“We don’t want to see the parking area; it hasn’t been maintained. We don’t want to see the cars,” said John McGuirk, Z.B.A. chairman.

The Z.B.A. members visited the property together recently, and Mr. McGuirk left the hearing open, but the application appears to be close to completion.

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