The battle to legalize an apartment complex in Hampton Bays that has been open for decades continued last week before the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals.
Vincenza and Domenico Iadevaia, the owners of the Tiana Pines Garden Apartments on West Montauk Highway, are seeking a variance that would allow them to change the designation of their 1-acre property from motel to apartment complex. Neither business is allowed in the town’s highway business zone.
Attorneys for the applicants, however, are arguing that the business, which was originally approved by the town as a motel, predates modern zoning and that, back then, the old zoning made no differentiation between motels and apartments, meaning that the variance should be granted.
Members of the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays, a civic group formed in the last year to fight quality of life issues in the hamlet, attended last Thursday night’s meeting to express their opposition to the variance request. Their attorney, Eric Bregman, from the Bridgehampton firm Farrell Fritz P.C., sat before the board alongside John Bennett, an attorney with Bennett and Read in Southampton who represents the Iadevaias, and questioned the legality of the proposed change of use, provoking a heated discussion at times.
“The issue is broad—it doesn’t stop with Tiana Pines,” said Robert Liner, a founding member of the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays. “It has a domino effect to the other motels in Hampton Bays, of which there are a considerable number.”
The group submitted a petition to the zoning board signed by 150 individuals who oppose the variance.
But Mr. Bennett said the board should not consider the document, noting that it does not include the addresses of those who signed it. “You should disregard the whole damn thing,” he said.
Though Mr. Bregman argued that the approval of the variance could set a harmful precedent that would affect the entire hamlet, not just neighbors of Tiana Pines, ZBA Vice Chairman Adam Grossman explained that board members must consider the application before them without making such presumptions. Mr. Grossman also rebuked members of the Concerned Citizens of Hampton Bays for sending the petition to the private e-mail addresses of board members, an action that he said undermined the public hearing process and was invasive.
Mr. Bregman argued that the motel use for the property had long been abandoned, making it illegal for the board to grant the variance. The town code prohibits the board from reinstating a nonconforming use once it has been discontinued for a year.
He also countered Mr. Bennett’s assertion that the variance should be awarded because the town had extended the property’s original building permit, granted in 1971, on multiple occasions and had also approved two certificates of occupancy for the nonconforming motel, most recently in 1988. Mr. Bennett is arguing that any decision should be based on the 1966 town zoning code, which allowed kitchens in motels and did not place a limit on lengths of stay. The town amended its code in 1972, prohibiting kitchens in motels and limiting lengths of stay in rooms to 29 days or less.
Mr. Bregman pointed out that there is a “common sense” difference between a motel room, where people stay for a short time while on vacation, and an apartment, which is a year-round home, and that the code recognizes that difference in its language. Under both the previous and current code, residential uses are defined as “dwellings” or “dwelling units,” terms that are not used when describing motels.
“The distinction is without time limits—it does not depend on the length of occupancy but only on whether the house or apartment unit is a dwelling—a home—or not a home but a place to stay away from home,” Mr. Bregman wrote in his letter to the zoning board. “Thus, the use of the one-room units of the subject property as apartments has been illegal ever since they have been used as dwelling units—homes—for the tenants.”
Mr. Bregman also dismissed Mr. Bennett’s statement that it would cost his clients $165,000 in order to renovate the 16 apartments at Tiana Pines so they can be leased as commercial units. Last week, Mr. Bregman submitted a letter to the board from a building engineer stating that such extensive renovations would not be necessary under the state building code.
He then stressed that the apartment complex would be better suited for commercial businesses. “We’re not saying they shouldn’t use the property—we’re saying there is a viable conforming use,” Mr. Bregman told the board.