Flatly Wrong - 27 East

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Southampton Press / Opinion / Letters / 1326518

Flatly Wrong

This letter is in response to Rob Coburn, member of the Southampton Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, indirectly justifying his vote, with a slim majority, to approve a nearly 15,000-square-foot house in the historic district [“It’s About The Code,” Letters, June 20].

The design was grossly out of scale in its location, immediately adjacent to Fair Lea Road, the oldest and most intact part of the district.

Mr. Coburn’s letter obscured the ARB’s legal responsibilities and excused his own failure to properly consider house size. He claimed that it was impermissible to evaluate, much less reject, a house based on its size. He is flatly wrong and should well understand that fact, based on a recent New York State Supreme Court reversal of the ARB’s prior approval of the same house. That approval wrongly rejected any consideration of size.

The court’s judgment was unequivocal. It held that historic code standards are in addition to—and not in conflict with—zoning. Those standards require an evaluation of house size. The court stated that an oversized house that is incompatible in its location can be denied or downsized, regardless of zoning compliance.

The court also was critical of then-Chairman Curtis Highsmith, who squelched discussion of house size, making similar claims that Mr. Coburn recycled in his letter. Thus, Mr. Highsmith declined to evaluate size, also claiming it conflicted with the zoning code. The court rejected that notion.

Nor is Mr. Coburn correct that the historic code’s requirement to evaluate “scale” is unclear or ambiguous. Duly adopted Village Design Review Guidelines logically define scale to mean size, as shown by a building’s dimensions.

The court explicitly stated that the board’s claim that it was powerless to evaluate size was without merit. It concluded that the refusal to consider size was a failure to apply a mandated historic code standard, and erroneous as a matter of law.

The second recent approval shows that the majority ignored critical facts. In an effort to justify shoehorning the oversized house next to Fair Lea’s five surviving 19th century architectural treasures, the majority decision airily dismissed the neighborhood’s historic significance. The approval denigrated the first and original Summer Colony neighborhood, describing it as “non-conforming,” inconsistent, and not representative of the character of the historic district.

Mr. Coburn’s letter is misleading, and its rationale would promote oversized estate development. His analysis is not properly focused on protecting village historic character, which is the mandate of his board.

Jeffrey BragmanAttorney-at-Law

East HamptonMr. Bragman represents the petitioners in the prior and pending Article 78 proceedings seeking to overturn the board’s decisions—Ed.

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