Court Upholds East Hampton Town ZBA Determination Denying Application for a Natural Resources Special Permit
April 29, 2019
In the Matter of Strandkorb, LLC v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of East Hampton, dated February 11, 2019, the Supreme Court, Suffolk County, upheld the Town of East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals determination which denied the petitioner’s request to construct a new two story residence with a garage, pool, patio decking, walkways and an upgraded septic system.
The subject property, located at 67 Shore Road in Amagansett, is across the street from properties abutting the Atlantic Ocean, and has protected dune land and beach vegetation on the western part of the site. As part of the Subdivision Map of Montauk-On-Sea Lots filed in 1955, the property is only 15,104 square feet in size, pre-exists the B Residential Zoning district in which it lies (the original house also pre-existed zoning) and is an undersized lot. Any disturbance of dune land or beach vegetation requires a Natural Resources Special Permit (“NRSP”) from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The proposed ZBA application sought to demolish the existing 2,600 square foot residence and construct a 3,075 square foot two story residence with a 589 square foot garage, 315 square foot pool and 998 square feet of patio, decking and walkways. The ZBA application sought a NRSP pursuant to Town Code §255-4-20 however, no variances from the Town’s Zoning Code were required in connection with the proposed development. Even though the ZBA noted that “it appears that the applicant has made an effort to design the project so as to minimize the disturbance in the western portion of the property which contains the beach vegetation and dune land habitat characteristics,” the ZBA ultimately denied the application. The ZBA relied upon the Planning Department’s finding that the project constituted an aggressive redevelopment of an environmentally sensitive property and found that the lot area was not “sufficient, appropriate or adequate for the proposed improvements” given that (i) the total lot coverage would increase from 22% to 35%, (ii) the proposed gross floor area of the home was 3,075 square feet where 3,110 square feet is permitted, and (iii) the building coverage would be doubled and only 5 square feet under the maximum allowed. The Board further found that the “overdevelopment of the property is not consistent with the surrounding properties, which are all substandard as to lot size and contain dune land habitat.” The Board also noted that “the surrounding properties consist of mostly soft scape, while the applicant here is proposing mainly hardscape (referring to the proposed decking, walkways and patio).” In response, applicant filed an Article 78 proceeding challenging the Zoning Board’s denial.
The court upheld the Zoning Board of Appeals determination, noting that local zoning board determinations are entitled to “great deference” and will only be set aside by a court if it is illegal, arbitrary and capricious or irrational. Petitioner argued that since the proposed development complied with the dimensions of the zoning code and minimized environmental impacts, the ZBA determination was arbitrary and capricious. However, the court noted that the ZBA found the application did not comply with the NRSP standards set forth in the Town Code. Specifically, the court noted that the proposed application would not maintain the character of the neighborhood or contribute to the orderly growth of the area concluding that the accessory structures would negatively impact the natural features on the lot. Moreover, the court referred to the zoning board’s finding that alternative designs to limit the proposed hard surfaces would lessen potential detrimental impacts to the property. Thus, the court found sufficient evidence in the Zoning Board’s record denying the application and held that the decision had a rational basis and was not arbitrary and capricious. Accordingly, the petition was denied and the Article 78 proceeding was dismissed.