Sag Harbor Homeowners Ask For Approval To Raise House, Install Pool On Flood-Prone Street - 27 East

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Sag Harbor Homeowners Ask For Approval To Raise House, Install Pool On Flood-Prone Street

Brendan J. O’Reilly on Dec 22, 2020

A proposal to raise a flood-prone house 2 feet, enclose porches and add a pool made the rounds last week at the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review.

The address is 14 Rogers Street and the new owners as of this year are Kate and Alex Stone. The property is adjacent to a village-owned sump, which raised the question of whether setbacks should be adhered to when the neighbor is an infiltration basin.

“The most unique thing about this house is that it sits next to the village sump, which is a drainage ditch, essentially, that sits just to the north of our property,” Mr. Stone told the zoning board. “During rainstorms, it takes on a lot of water.”

He said the sump fills with water after most every rainstorm, but that is not their concern. “Our big concern, our primary concern, is all the channel flooding that happens on Rogers Street as all the water from the area comes down our street into the drain that’s next to our home.”

In almost every storm, the water jumps the curb, he said. “The living room sits just beneath street level and only a few feet off of the street itself. And so we’re always at risk of water coming into our living room, and then streaming across our main floor, and then getting down into our cellar.”

Mr. Stone said that while the house already has a pyramid violation because it is on a small lot, they would like permission to raise it 2 feet. He explained that they arrived at 2 feet because it would be high enough that flooding does not become an issue again in a few years, while the new height would still being in character with the surrounding houses.

Additionally, in order to enclose the covered porches on the rear of the house, the plan would require setback variances. They are also seeking to expand an existing parking court to fit an additional vehicle.

For the proposed pool, Mr. Stone said they wish to site it closer to the sump than setbacks allow so that it will be farther away from the real neighbors.

“Those are very large variances from what the code requires in terms of the setbacks,” Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Tim McGuire said. “We normally wouldn’t grant variances of that size. They’re giant. Each one is 66 percent, 30 percent, 25 percent.”

Board member Ham Willoughby concurred: “These, to me, are excessive variances.”

Member Scott Baker corroborated that the street “becomes a river” in storms, and he was open to the idea of siting the pool close to the sump. “It would be more desirable to be near that than to have it closer to the other residents,” he said. “An argument can be made for that.”

Member Alex Matthiessen wanted to know if there is a precedent for a setback variance next to a uninhabitable property that is a public utility.

The board’s counsel, Elizabeth Vail, advised the members that even if there is no such precedent, the board could allow a substantial setback variance in this case without creating a new precedent that other property owners could use.

“We’re also concerned about precedent,” Mr. McGuire told Mr. Stone. “So as soon as we grant a variance, then that becomes a precedent for anyone who comes to us after that. These are so large that we might as well not have any setbacks in our code. … So we need to differentiate this in so many ways so it can’t be used as a precedent before we can think about granting it.”

The Zoning Board of Appeals adjourned the application following the preliminary discussion on December 15. Two days later, Mr. Stone addressed the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, the members of which had much different concerns.

The house was previously enlarged by a former owner, and Mr. Stone presented before and after photos.

The entry is on a bump-out that is recessed from the street; the proposal calls for moving the door to the very front of the house, closest to the street. Also, two street-facing paired windows on the first floor would be spaced apart.

Zachary Studenroth, the board’s historic preservation consultant, was against both of those ideas.

“There is very little left of the integrity of this house given the very large addition which has gone off to the back which we can, in fact, seen here from the street, with the ridgeline rising so high as it does,” he said. “My recommendation is those changes should not happen because that will essentially eradicate what is left of the integrity of the building.”

Mr. Stone noted that the main reason for moving the door is to allow for a second parking space: “If we leave the door where it is, we can’t fit a car, no matter how wide we make that parking court.”

“Maintaining what is left of the integrity of this building is the highest priority before this board,” Mr. Studenroth said. “Accommodating additional, expanded use of the building and/or the property is not a priority.”

While Mr. Studenroth agreed that Mr. Stone should address the drainage issue, he had a problem with raising the house 2 feet. “The height of the building in its appearance from the street is really radically transformed,” he said, “and again, we’re talking about preserving the visual integrity of what is left of this contributing building. I would argue that any further changed to that would render this to no longer appear to be a historical building.”

The application was adjourned until January.

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