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Mar 12, 2013 4:24 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Nuzzi Considers Legislation To Amend Zoning Code

Mar 13, 2013 12:55 PM

Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said he is considering introducing legislation that would make it more difficult for property owners to obtain variances for uses that not permitted under the town code. If approved, it would strike the portion of the code that allows the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals to grant a change from one nonconforming use that predates zoning restrictions to another nonconforming use.

Property owners seeking such a change would instead need to apply for a use variance, which has more stringent guidelines, Mr. Nuzzi explained to members of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association (FRNCA) on Monday night, during their meeting. In order for the zoning board to grant a use variance under the town code, the applicants must prove that there are conditions unique to the property in question and not the entire area, that the permitted uses would not result in a reasonable return, that the change would not alter the character of a neighborhood and that the hardship was not self-created.

“There is a very lax standard,” Mr. Nuzzi said, of the zoning code the way it now stands.

He also stressed that he was not passing judgement on the zoning board for any specific past decision, noting that he simply thinks that there should be tighter controls over such changes.

The zoning board is now considering an application filed by the owners of the Tiana Pines Garden Apartments in Hampton Bays that essentially seeks the same type of change that Mr. Nuzzi is now trying to prevent. The property owners are seeking a variance that would legalize the apartments, which are not permitted in the hamlet’s Highway Business District. The complex can legally operate as a motel, a nonconforming use that existed prior to the establishment of current zoning, but has been operating illegally as an apartment complex for more than a decade.

The owners are seeking a change from one nonconforming use to another, a request that would not be permitted if Mr. Nuzzi’s idea becomes law. Instead, the owners would have to seek relief by applying for the more stringent use variance.

Mr. Nuzzi said he wants to seek input from community members before introducing the resolution, possibly in a few weeks. He also pointed out that East Hampton and Brookhaven towns have no such provision allowing a change from one nonconforming use to another.

Currently, the zoning board needs to determine that such a change would be beneficial to the neighborhood before it grants a variance. “That standard can be subjectively applied,” Mr. Nuzzi said.

Vince Taldone, the vice president of FRNCA, agreed.

“It’s just inviting abuse in the future, if it hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “It’s just too much discretion and too much interpretation by appointed members of a board instead of an elected body.”

If the resolution were adopted, property owners who wish to utilize their land in a way not permitted by current zoning could also seek a change of zone, which would require a Town Board resolution and a public hearing.

Adam Grossman, vice chair of the zoning board, said Tuesday morning that the proposed change would make it more difficult for property owners to utilize their land in a way that doesn’t conform with existing zoning. He then declined to comment further.

“It’s really for the Town Board to decide whether they want to go ahead and do that—it’s their call,” he said.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Herb Phillips did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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