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May 11, 2018 3:06 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village Board Members Approve GFA Reductions That Toughen Limits On House Sizes

Michael White, founder and president of Georgical Builders, told Southampton Village Board members he did not approve of restrictions to the maximum allowable gross floor area. GREG WEHNER
May 16, 2018 9:00 AM

Southampton Village Board members approved changes to the village code last week that limit the size of new homes by reducing the maximum gross floor area allowed.

Village Trustee Nancy McGann was the single board member to vote against the measure, which reduces the maximum GFA from 12 percent of a property’s overall size, plus 1,500 square feet, to 10 percent, plus 1,500 square feet. The new restrictions will apply to new building applications filed after August 1.

For example, under the previous code, the maximum GFA of a 1-acre residential property was 6,300 square feet; under the new code, the maximum GFA would be 5,500 square feet, a difference of 800 square feet, or about 12.7 percent.

Ms. McGann spoke out against the new law at Thursday’s board meeting, claiming it was a further encroachment on property rights.

Local builder Michael White, the founder and president of Georgica Builders LTD, also expressed dismay with the law at the meeting, saying it would crush property values by limiting the size of houses allowed on the lots.

“It’s not fair,” Mr. White told board members. “You’re hurting everyone in this village.”

The reduction in allowable GFA is part of a four-pronged approach that village officials have been implementing over the past few years to control the size of development on larger residential lots.

The calculation of GFA includes the total square footage of each floor of a house, and can include the square footage of attached and detached garages over a maximum size, depending on the zone, along with attic space over a certain height. Basements are not included in the GFA calculation, though accessory buildings such as pool houses and sheds are.

The new law is intended to reduce the maximum GFA on single-family lots in the R-40, R-20, R-12.5 and R-7.5, or residential properties ranging in size from 1 acre to 7,500 square feet, in addition to the multi-family residence districts zoned MF-20, which requires half-acre lots.

While the new limit applies to homes in the smallest zone, R-7.5, within the village, it does not apply to homes in the Hillcrest neighborhood, all of which are zoned R-7.5. The board decided that the limits weren’t necessary in the neighborhood because of already existing limitations imposed by the county, given the nature of construction on Hillcrest.

“There are 30, 40, 50 houses that have lot widths that are 30 feet, 40 feet, 50 feet wide,” Village Trustee Kimberly Allan said on Thursday, referring to properties in the Hillcrest neighborhood. “They couldn’t build anything today because of the Department of Health. Our code has no bearing on that area. They’re in a very difficult situation.”

Mr. Irving agreed and said Hillcrest is in a unique area that needed to be addressed.

However, Mr. White argued that it was ridiculous to give Hillcrest, a largely African-American neighborhood, its own zoning, telling the board it was almost “blatantly racist” to do so.

Still, the consensus among all of the board members was that the homes in Hillcrest were in a unique configuration and the new size limits were never intended to be applied in the neighborhood.

“This is not something new that was snuck in,” Southampton Village Mayor Michael Irving said at the meeting. “This is not some random thing that was picked out of a hat.” He noted that the plan to reduce GFA in the village was looked at for well over a year by the Planning Commission, who proposed the changes to the Village Trustees.

The idea of the new law is to put a damper on a trend where smaller lots were being purchased for top dollar by new owners seeking to max out what they can build on the lot, through new construction or additions to existing homes, resulting in smaller, existing neighboring homes being smothered or overshadowed by the new and improved larger homes.

Village officials have been trying to address the trend of larger homes being built in the village for well over a decade.

In 2005, then-Village Board members Bill Bates, James McFarlane and Harald Steudte drafted a law that limited development rights based on the size of the property. Dubbed the “Bates Law,” it stated that a house could be no larger, in total square feet of living space, than 10 percent of the property’s size, plus an additional 1,750 square feet on properties smaller than 60,000 square feet. On larger lots, the limit was 12 percent of the lot size, plus an additional 1,600 square feet.

Two years later, the restrictions were modified to allow 12 percent of the property to be developed, plus 1,500 square feet, which is what the code has been ever since.

The new changes will make some homes non-conforming, which will complicate things if a homeowner wants to build a pool house or any other accessory that factors into the GFA.

Jay Diesing of the Southampton Association told board members he supported the new restrictions, adding that the amount of reduction was pretty significant, but the zoning still allows larger houses than neighboring communities.

Village Trustee Richard Yastrzemski said he went back and forth on the idea of reducing the GFA. He noted that he went around to people in the community and asked what their thoughts were on the new law, and said most of them thought it was a good idea.

While the new measure amounts to a 300-square-foot reduction in what Mr. Yastrzemski is allowed to build on his lot, he said he needs to think about the village first.

“We’re trying to make Southampton more attractive,” said Mr. Irving, who added that he wanted to make the homes Mr. White builds more attractive.

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Stupid law, always happy when they could pass more legislation to control other people's lives
By widow gavits (219), sag harbor on May 11, 18 5:14 PM
Where will the estates keep their outdoor cushions??
By Mouthampton (409), Southampton on May 11, 18 7:55 PM