Application For Generator At Condo Raises Questions

Brian DeSesa addresses the Zoning Board of Appeals.

A condo owner’s application to install a backup generator on his property drew scrutiny from members of the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals who were concerned about the noise it would make and the precedent that approving it could set.

The condo is located in the Sag Harbor Villas, a 31-unit waterfront community in the historic district. During the board’s October 20 virtual meeting, owner Jeffrey Soukup and his attorney, Brian DeSesa, pitched a plan to place a generator in the small front yard of the condo and shield it from view with vegetation. The application requires ZBA approval because generators are normally prohibited in front yards and because installing the device would exceed the permissible lot coverage.

The Kohler generator that is proposed to be installed on 9 square feet next to existing air conditioners is a self-enclosed system that operates at a lower decibel than the average air conditioning unit, Mr. DeSesa told the board. He said there is no other place on the property where the generator could fit because it cannot go on a deck or on property that is owned commonly by the condo association.

The Soukups’ property is minuscule but is held to the same standards as single-family zoning, Mr. DeSesa said. Also, he said that while he did not find other generators at the Villas that he could cite as precedent, under current zoning code every new air conditioning unit there will likewise require permission from the ZBA.

ZBA member Scott Baker pointed out that backup generators will create noise even when they are not in use.

“They don’t just come on when you need them, they come on once a week to test themselves,” he said. “There is a maintenance that they run through, usually for about an hour.”

Mr. Baker also raised the prospect that once the ZBA approves one generator, 30-some-odd condo owners at the Villas could ask for the same.

“We’d have 30 generators humming,” Mr. Baker said.

“Less than air conditioners, though, but yes,” Mr. DeSesa said.

“Yeah, but if you have two air conditioners instead of one, you get more noise,” board member Susan Mead said.

The condo association has no covenants prohibiting generators, Mr. DeSesa said, and board attorney Elizabeth Vail said that private covenants have no effect on the ZBA’s deliberations or actions.

“That’s for the applicant to risk,” Ms. Vail said. “If they violate some provisions of those covenants or restrictions, it’s on them. And they’re private. They’re not imposed by the village, and we don’t have to abide by them.”

Mr. Soukup said the president of the Villas condo association only asked that the generator be screened.

In making a case for why the generator is needed, he said that he and his wife, Diane Soukup, now live at the condo year-round and she has serious allergies. While last year they got lucky and there were no serious winter storms, if they were to be a storm this coming winter that knocks out power, they won’t be able to run air conditioning to prevent her allergy problems, he said.

However, Ms. Vail said the board is not permitted to consider health issues when weighing applications for variances.

ZBA Chairman Tim McGuire said he is inclined to grant the application, even knowing that it could lead to even more generators at the Villas, since the condo association is OK with it.
Member Alex Matthiessen said there could be environmental impacts to having so many generators.

Mr. Baker said the condo association could solve the problem of everyone having their own generator by installing a few shared units.

Having voiced their concerns and suggestions, the ZBA unanimously approved granting a variance to allow the generator.