The owner/builder of a Wooley Street home in Southampton Village that violates the village’s Pyramid Law, who stopped work pending his request for a variance, will now get back to finishing the building.
At the Southampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals board meeting last Thursday, February 28, the board granted a variance to Douglas Valk, whose home was built in violation of village code, a fact missed by village inspectors who issued a building permit. Approval came with a 3-1 vote, with board member Rob DeVinney dissenting—and saying that the law was compromised, and he worries about the impact of the decision. Board member James Zuhusky was absent.
The home violates the Pyramid Law, which limits a building’s height and the angle of its roofline in order to keep it from disrupting the view of its neighbors. It is based on lot size and where the structure is located on the lot. The violation is the result of an admitted oversight by the builder—but also by the Village Building Department, which issued a building permit allowing the construction without checking if it complied with the Pyramid Law.
Had the board not granted the variance, Mr. Valk would have been 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, according to the owner.
“My wife and I are thankful this is behind us, but it’s been very difficult,” Mr. Valk said on Monday. “We realized that the board had a very difficult decision, that whatever it decided is going to upset one side or the other. But we had a very compelling argument and extremely unique circumstances to support our application.”
Others were not so thankful. Neighbors of the home and opponents of the variance left the meeting deflated and frustrated that no explanation of the decision was given during the meeting. According to members of the ZBA in their decision, “The benefit sought by the applicant outweighs any detriment to the neighborhood under the circumstances of this case.”
Neighbors of the 2,880-square-foot home have argued that since Mr. Valk’s home is for sale, with an asking price of $2.75 million, he would make a profit on its sale, even if he had to rebuild.
“The board has made a lot of bad decisions along these lines,” said Jay Diesing, president of a local citizens group, the Southampton Association. “The Building Department doesn’t pay attention, and the ZBA grants variances.”
Mr. Valk’s application had been challenged since November by neighbors who have said that the home does not fit in with the general aesthetics of the neighborhood, and the couple who lives north of the property has complained that the house blocks sunlight to their home because Mr. Valk’s house is too tall. The same neighbors have said that such an error should be remedied, and that granting Mr. Valk a pass would set a dangerous precedent.
Nonetheless, the board said that although Mr. Valk should have known about the Pyramid Law requirement—and the board considers his need for a variance as a “self-created difficulty”—the construction that followed relied on a building permit approved by the building inspector and issued last June. “Difficulty resulting from good faith reliance on a building permit mistakenly issued by a building inspector is properly considered in evaluating an application for an area variance, and we find no basis in the record for questioning the applicant’s good faith,” the decision said.
During public hearings in December and January, Mr. Valk and his attorney, David Gilmartin Jr. of the Bridgehampton firm Farrell Fritz P.C., argued that not including the Pyramid Law sketch in the site plan was an honest mistake, and that demolishing and rebuilding the second floor would be costly. Village Building Inspector Jonathan Foster, who said he was not the inspector who granted the permit, said that missing the detail was an oversight made in a very busy office.
And despite some neighbors’ urging that the house stands out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood, members of the board said in their decision that by granting the variance there would be no undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood.
Since the Village Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation approved the site plans before the building permit was issued—the ARB does not check for adherence to the Pyramid Law—the ZBA said that any suggestion that the ARB did not consider the plans in relation to the character of the neighborhood is not realistic. Mr. Valk said he and his neighbors worked with the ARB last year to reach an approved design.