Building Inspector Checks, Finds Billy Joel House Conforms to Its Permit

The section of the Billy Joel renovation facing Rector Street is a few inches larger than it used to be around each side, but the change falls within code tolerances. Peter Boody photo

It was the blue tarp that went over much of Billy Joel’s old house at 20 Bay Street last summer that raised an alarm for David Berridge, an architect who is a member of the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board.

The use of a tarp to cover up a structure undergoing renovations approved by the board in 2018, he said, made him wonder “what were they hiding.”

Instead of a renovation, “A new house was being built around the old structure,” he said, so that “the house was not actually getting renovated; it was getting rebuilt.”

No code violations are occurring at the property, according to Sag Harbor Building Inspector Thomas Preiato. ARB Chair Dean Gomolka, also asked for comment, said the building inspector had investigated and found the construction to be “within his tolerances.”

But as Mr. Berridge sees it, what’s happened there is an example of building projects that either violate the village code or use loopholes to exceed limits that were set when plans were approved.

He cited unscreened heating and air conditioning equipment on the roof of the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center as one example — something that the center’s board chair April Gornik has promised will be corrected.

Mr. Berridge also cited ongoing construction at 20 Grand Street, where an old house was to have been incorporated into a new, larger structure. Instead, the portion of the house that the ARB expected to be saved has been moved out of the way and a new “stick built” reproduction has been incorporated in the new house.

Mr. Berridge said the building inspector was investigating that matter.

Because of some concerns about the Billy Joel project and the seemingly grander size of its older structure facing Rector Street, Mr. Berridge said that “measurements were taken” recently by a person he declined to identify.

They showed that the process of building over the existing frame had added about 13 or 14 inches to the dimensions of the house over the original. That means the gross floor area of the structure has to be greater than what the board approved, he said.

Jeffrey Colle, Mr. Joel’s designer and builder, denied on Tuesday that someone had been on the site to make measurements. He said he had been asked week ago by Mr. Preiato to submit a survey of the work in progress and that Mr. Preiato found that it should all structures were in compliance.

Asked about Mr. Berridge’s concerns, Mr. Preiato wrote in reply to emailed questions on Tuesday, “At this point, the main concern is the fact that a member of the ARB may have measured the building and may [have] attempted to interpret the [village] code.

“The ARB has a specified purview, of which this clearly isn’t. If a discrepancy is suspected, I would be the one that is consulted for measurements, etc., at which point I would order a survey or consult a third party if there is any uncertainty.

“In this instance, although there are some minor discrepancies in measurements, code-wise, the building is compliant. I had ordered an under-construction survey, which I was provided with right away to determine the same. The code does allow for variations in field measurements for the improper siting of a building. No SWO [stop work order] at this time.”

Acknowledging that Mr. Preiato had investigated and found no violations, Mr. Berridge said it was, “in my opinion, quite shocking” that there is a provision in the village code that allows for error or variation from approved dimensions.

Village Attorney Denise Schoen confirmed that there is a code provision “that gives Tom discretion over errors 12 inches or less,” she wrote in reply to a texted question. She did not recall what section of the code contained the provision.

“Someone is obviously taking advantage of it,” Mr. Berridge said of the code, so much so that they can “drive a stadium full of Billy Joel fans through it.”