Sag Harbor ARB Questions Rooftop Terraces

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By Christine Sampson

Who doesn’t love a beautiful terrace view and a rooftop party on a calm summer evening?

Most likely, the neighbor who lives next door to a home with that terrace, according to Sag Harbor’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review.

The board is poised to take steps to close what some of its members say is a loophole in the village building code that allows residents and developers here to design tall, flat-topped houses that can serve as terraces that usually provide lovely views, but often invade neighbors’ privacy and become venues for rooftop parties.

The issue came up during the last ten minutes of the board’s October 12 meeting, where board chairman Anthony Brandt made it a point to discuss the issue publicly after personally receiving numerous complaints from village residents.

Terraces are “usually there for a view of the water, but neighbors tend not to like them because they tend to provide views into their properties, and these are losses of privacy, so we’re sympathetic to that and we’re trying to find a way to limit the height of roof terraces,” Mr. Brandt said by phone on Monday.

He continued, “It’s nice to have a view and it’s a nice place to have a party. People are objecting to the party aspect especially because of the noise. It’s one thing to have a party with cocktails in your backyard, but it’s quite another to have a terrace.”

Mr. Brandt said a code revision is necessary to address the issue. In the current Sag Harbor building code, the maximum height of a house is 35 feet, and houses cannot be more than two stories tall. In Sagaponack, East Hampton Town and Southampton Town the maximum height of a flat-roofed house is 25 feet. Board member Val Florio said North Haven Village is in the process of similarly updating its code as well.

The Sag Harbor ARB is now weighing limiting flat-roofed houses to 22 feet with a three-foot railing, making the total height 25 feet.

“We’re just trying to catch up with the rest of the communities around here on this issue,” Mr. Brandt said. “We do get complaints and we listen to them.”

Mr. Florio said from an architectural standpoint, a building with a flat or slightly pitched roof is considered to have more “mass” than one with a peaked or sloped roof.

“The sloped roof doesn’t create a visual blockade like the mass of a big, flat-roofed house,” he said by phone on Monday. “It’s like having a three-story building in front of you. The typical standpoint with most villages is the potential for a visual trespass…. Technically, these 35-foot-tall, flat-roofed houses can be overwhelming. Our job is to weigh in if they look too big.”

Board member Bethany Deyermond agreed with Mr. Brandt that “we need to be aware of the neighbors.”

“I’m not really sure what the answer is, but we just can’t keep allowing all of them,” she said by phone on Monday. “You have to balance it out. That’s what I’m always looking for — balance.”

Board member Dean Gomolka said he would also oppose rooftop terraces as “entertainment areas.”

“I don’t think it’s neighborly,” he said by phone on Tuesday. “Someone decides to have roof deck entertainment, a party, umbrellas. That’s ‘X’ amount of feet above grade. How would a neighbor defend their privacy? These properties are so small. How do you roll in a 45-foot tree or manage that vantage point?”

Mr. Gomolka also said noise becomes an issue, as well as aesthetics. “From the streetscape, if you start seeing umbrellas or other contraptions on the roof, I think that’s an aesthetic effect and not in the interest of the village,” he said.

During the October 12 board meeting, with the board in agreement that the maximum height of flat-roofed houses should be adjusted downward to limit the impact of potential terraces, Mr. Brandt directed attorney Elizabeth Vail to draw up language that he could present to the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees for a potential building code amendment.

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