Neighbors Clash Over Plans for Garden Street Cottage Expansion

The house at 52 Garden Street belonging to Sara Colleton. Christine Sampson photo
The house at 52 Garden Street belonging to Sara Colleton. Christine Sampson photo

By Christine Sampson

Plans for a two-story addition at 52 Garden Street in Sag Harbor Village took a contentious turn during the March 21 Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, where representatives for the homeowner and for a neighbor clashed over details of the plans.

Homeowner Sara Colleton was before the board seeking a pyramid variance of about 4,100 cubic feet, about twice what ZBA chairman Tim McGuire said the board would be comfortable considering last month. Details presented by representatives of the two neighbors — such as whether 52 Garden Street was listed by the building department as a one-story house or a one-and-a-half story house, whether the air conditioning units next door were legal, and whether there were precedents for large pyramid variances in neighboring homes — ultimately fell to the wayside.

The ZBA initially denied the variance before reopening the case and putting it on hold to allow Ms. Colleton, her attorney, Dennis Downes, and her architect, Kathryn Fee, to resubmit new plans that would require a smaller pyramid variance. They also sought variances for a retaining wall for the new septic system, exterior air-conditioning unit and porch extension.

“If you came in with a smaller pyramid variance, I think the other things you need variances for we could probably work through,” Mr. McGuire told Mr. Downes and Ms. Fee.

According to Mr. Downes, Ms. Colleton wants to renovate the back of the first floor of her house into a two-story addition to be able to build a master bedroom and bathroom on the second floor. Mr. Downes said Ms. Colleton is six-feet-tall and is unable to fully stand up on the upper floor of her one-and-a-half story house.

Mr. Downes continued to argue it was a hardship for Ms. Colleton, as he did in February, and on March 21 he invoked the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as one of the reasons the ZBA should grant Ms. Colleton the requested pyramid variance. Some on the board seemed confused as to why it would be invoked in the first place.

“Are you suggesting a height over six feet is covered under the Disabilities Act?” board member Robert Plumb asked.

“That’s what I’m saying,” Mr. Downes replied.

“That’s interpretation,” Mr. Plumb said.

However, according to ZBA attorney Denise Schoen, that legislation is typically invoked in the planning application process, and it is extremely rare for the ZBA to handle an ADA case.

“I’ve never heard of ADA applying to someone who is too tall for something they purchased,” Ms. Schoen said by phone on Tuesday. “I think they’ve got a long road ahead of them in proving that the ADA applies to someone who is too tall for their own house and that the ADA trumps local zoning regulations.”

On Tuesday, Mr. McGuire said by phone that he respects the difficulties Ms. Colleton has with her house.

“If the variance needed were smaller, then we would take into consideration that the plans are more aesthetically appealing,” he said. “But we have neighbors who have complained about it, we have precedent, and we have zoning code to look out for. Our elected officials have concerns about things being expanded and they would like to see cottages remain cottages for the most part.”

There also seemed to be confusion over the stance taken by the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board, for whom Mr. Downes previously presented Ms. Colleton’s project as a discussion item.

On February 21, Mr. Downes told the ZBA, “Before we proceeded with the ZBA, we had the ARB sign-off on the most recent set of plans,” which included what would be the zoning request for a 4,100-cubic-foot pyramid variance.

But toward the end of the March 9 meeting of the ARB, after all of its scheduled business had been addressed, board member Christopher Leonard brought up 52 Garden Street and pointed out that “we haven’t had an application on this house. So how can they go to the ZBA and say we wanted this?”

ARB chairman Anthony Brandt had sent a letter to his counterpart on the ZBA concerning 52 Garden Street in June 2016, saying that the ARB had looked at two designs for second-floor additions and said they would most likely be denied, but said the board might look favorably upon a small one-story addition on the rear of the house instead. “It was obvious, however, that it would require a zoning variance, and I volunteered to write your board … and let it be known that we might approve a modest addition along these lines, although, needless to add, we cannot promise anything,” Mr. Brandt wrote to the ZBA.