On a quiet Southampton Village street, a dispute has been brewing over the past few months concerning a new house built in violation of the village’s Pyramid Law, which limits the height of structures and requires a residential roof to incline at a 45-degree angle from its front and side property lines, all to limit visual impact for neighbors.
The house at 80 Wooley Street exceeds the Pyramid Law limits, which are based on lot size and where the structure is located on the lot, by 2,650 cubic feet, and its roof inclines at a 35-degree angle. The violations are the result of an admitted oversight by the builder—but also by the Village Building Department, which issued a building permit allowing the home’s construction.
The builder and homeowner, Douglas Valk, a Southampton resident, said he is between a rock and a hard place and is seeking a variance from the Village Zoning Board of Appeals to legalize the construction, rather than being forced to largely demolish the house and start again. A decision is expected to be made at the board’s February 28 meeting.
Without a variance, Mr. Valk would be required to remove the second floor of the structure and rebuild it to adhere to the law, removing approximately 280 square feet from the house—at a cost of nearly $150,000, an amount he said would be devastating to his family.
Neighbors of the 2,880-square-foot home have challenged Mr. Valk since November, when his application had its first public hearing before the ZBA, saying such an error should be remedied, and that granting Mr. Valk a pass would set a dangerous precedent. The same neighbors have also said that the home does not fit in with the general aesthetics of the neighborhood, and the couple who live north of the property have complained that the house blocks sunlight to their home because Mr. Valk’s house is too tall.
The dispute is not the first involving the house. According to the Building Department, Mr. Valk received approval for his home from the village’s Board of Historic Preservation & Architectural Review last year after modifying his original plans and compromising with his neighbors to reach an acceptable site plan. But when the ARB signed off on the site plan, it did not check for adherence to the Pyramid Law—according to Jon Foster, the village building inspector, that is the responsibility of the architect and the Building Department.
According to both Mr. Valk and Mr. Foster, the fact that the house was in violation of the law wasn’t discovered until a building inspector came to check out the property after the second floor was completed in October. Mr. Valk had been granted a building permit in June 2012.
“It was an oversight,” Mr. Foster acknowledged on Tuesday. “One inspector did miss that detail. In the review, there was no detail of the Pyramid Law.”
No stop work order was issued because the structure had already been completed, according to Mr. Foster. Mr. Valk was allowed to finish weather-proofing the house shortly after the error was discovered and then halted further construction.
Mr. Foster said he regrets the mistake, but noted that the Building Department deals with a flood of information and tons of requests on a daily basis, and that while there are checks and balances in place, the department’s attention doesn’t always balance out correctly. “We apologized and told [Mr. Valk] he is going to have to go to the ZBA,” he said. “Mr. Valk has been more than up front with me on this.”
According to ZBA Chairman Kevin Guidera, the application is a “rather unusual” one, and the board is not yet leaning one way or the other. “You’ve got two sides to the story,” he said. “[Mr. Valk] did get a permit—but he’s a builder and should know the law.”
Mr. Valk said on Tuesday that the code violation was “an honest oversight. All the procedures were followed. I was in shock that we had the permit and it was not ironclad. We paid our fee and got the permit for what we thought was approved.”
Because of the error, Mr. Valk needs a variance to keep his home as is. But homeowners on Wooley Street and nearby streets say the house is too big and should be demolished to bring it into compliance with the law.
“Wooley Street has been an idyllic, ideal village street and has charming architecture that makes it unique,” said Walter Skretch, who lives next door. “The fact that this creature is suddenly stuck in the middle of it … it’s just too big for its britches.”
Mr. Skretch said he and his partner, Marianne Finnerty, are frustrated that the new house is blocking the sunlight at certain times of the day. Before the house was built, the parcel at 80 Wooley Street had a small house on the rear of the property. The “severe” roof line now casts a shadow on their property, he said.