The denial of a variance needed to build a swimming pool at his house at 59 Garden Street led Sag Harbor resident William Egan to file suit this week against Sag Harbor Village, its board of trustees and its Zoning Board of Appeals.
The ZBA voted in a straw poll in December, and later formalized that vote in a written decision, to deny a variance that would have green-lit a pool in a front yard, which village code prohibits. Because Mr. Egan’s property sits at the junction of three streets, he has no backyard, but instead technically has three front yards, in which to build a pool.
In the suit, filed this week in Suffolk County Supreme Court, attorney Alex Kriegsman argues on Mr. Egan’s behalf that the ZBA acted “in a manner motivated by self-interest” because, he says, three of its members had alleged conflicts of interest they did not disclose. Two of the members who voted no, the suit says, have pools in the front yards of their properties, and one of them lives a few doors down from Mr. Egan.
The suit also alleges the ZBA’s variance vote was illegal because one of the members “phoned in her vote.” The suit also alleges the ZBA ignored its missive to base decisions on five particular factors, such as whether the character of a neighborhood would be altered by the variance or whether the hardship necessitating it is self-created. Instead, the suit alleges, the ZBA focused almost solely on flooding in the neighborhood and ignored an expert’s testimony that Mr. Egan’s proposed pool would not contribute to flooding.
“We’re making a lot of arguments, but my view is that the ZBA makes [President] Donald Trump look like someone who has respect for the rule of law,” Mr. Kriegsman said.
But village attorney David Gilmartin Jr. said he is confident the ZBA’s decision will be upheld in court.”
“I don’t think that any of those factors, if true, would result in a conflict of interest,” he said. “The village is two square miles. It’s basically a neighborhood. You’re going to have board members who are in proximity to applicants. In this particular case, that proximity does not create a conflict. The fact that a board member may or may not have a pool in their front yard makes no difference. If that pool is legal, then it doesn’t matter. They preexisted the zoning code change and certainly the board members and any other identified in the Egan lawsuit predated the law.”
The suit further charges that the village’s gross floor area (GFA) law – which limits the size of houses in Sag Harbor – is illegal, and that the law was adopted without following the proper process. This week’s development is not the first that Mr. Kriegsman has argued involving the GFA law. He argued similar cases on behalf of Julian Ellison, who settled a case against the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review in February of 2017, and on behalf of Marcus Fortelni, who in 2016 won a temporary restraining order blocking the village from enforcing its new zoning changes on his property.
The suit also alleges the village’s Board of Trustees made several missteps when it changed its zoning code in 2015 and 2016. Mr. Kriegsman said the group Save Sag Harbor had too much influence in the process, and that their dealings with the village were mostly covert.
“A village has a right to make changes to its zoning code, but there are procedures that you have to follow,” he said. “That entire procedure they went through is a sham and we have the documents to prove it.”
Mr. Gilmartin called that part of the suit “much ado about nothing.”
“I think Save Sag Harbor or any group that would like to lobby the Board of Trustees is certainly well within their rights to do that,” he said. “There’s nothing nefarious about it.”
Save Sag Harbor board member Jayne Young said the group had not yet seen Mr. Egan’s complaint and that it could not yet comment on the allegations.
Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge William B. Rebolini on Tuesday signed an order to show cause and set a court date for April 12.