Zoning Board Faces Dilemma on Wilson Place Mishap

The house at 8 Wilson Place. Christine Sampson photo

After construction work at 8 Wilson Place in Ninevah veered from Sag Harbor Village’s zoning regulations a few months ago, prompting the building inspector to issue a stop-work order and bump the case up to the Zoning Board of Appeals, the board on Tuesday continued to struggle with how to resolve it.

On one side of the board’s dilemma is a modern, square-shaped structure that towers over a neighboring house, piercing what the zoning code calls the “sky plane” and necessitating a “pyramid” variance. And on the other side of the board’s dilemma is a family: Delia Brennen, Julio Leitao and their children. Ms. Brennen said Tuesday they would simply like to finish their new house and move in.

The zoning board held an hour-long work session on the issue and later, during its regular meeting, engaged in a lengthy debate on the topic.

The board’s attorney, Denise Schoen, put it this way: “From a legal perspective, we’re not supposed to grant something to someone that we wouldn’t have granted from the beginning, but the court also makes us weigh the benefit to the applicant versus the detriment to the community. It’s tricky because you have these two battling factors.”

Thomas Preiato, the building inspector, said Wednesday a “compliant set of plans was submitted as far as the sky plane exposure line is concerned.”

“It was noticed during a field inspection, during construction, that the building obviously protruded into the 45-degree sky plane line,” Mr. Preiato said. “It’s as simple as that, unfortunate as it is. There was nothing done intentionally. It was an honest error. I have worked with the architect for almost 20 years and have a very positive attitude towards her. In fairness to all, it could have been noticed sooner but unfortunately wasn’t.”

All five board members on Tuesday agreed that had they been presented from the get-go with the 4,756-cubic-foot pyramid variance request made by Ms. Brennen and Mr. Leitao under the name Sharon Jones Trust, they would have denied it. But they all acknowledged Ms. Brennen and Mr. Leitao — who is doing the construction work himself — would face significant costs if they were asked to make changes.

The house is made of cement and steel rebar rather than wood.

Ms. Brennen said lopping off parts of the house to comply with the pyramid law — which was one of the zoning board’s initial suggestions — would amount to unfair punishment for what she, her husband and their architect, Anne Sherry, said was an honest mistake during construction.

“I don’t want to be the example. I’m not a developer,” she said.

Mr. Leitao said it would not be cost-effective to make changes.

“The solution would be to demolish it to the foundation and build it again,” he said. “It would cost a lot of money and wouldn’t be worth it.”

The case is even spurring the board to update its general policies and procedures to start asking for more specific sky plane information from all residents who come before the board asking for variances.

The zoning board ultimately tabled the matter, asking the applicants to come up with suggestions to present next month. Ms. Schoen also suggested they hire an attorney. They were represented before the board by their architect, Ms. Sherry.

The zoning board also unanimously approved seven variances for Adam Scott and Chris Beacham at 5 Vickers Street, a scaled-down request for a project that initially called for 14 variances about a year ago.

Another decision, for Michael Brosnan’s house at 19 Cuffee Drive, will legalize another case of as-built construction that Mr. Brosnan said was the result of a survey mistake. Two variances were unanimously approved after a landscape plan was presented showing how the impact of the mistake will be downplayed on the street.

The zoning board unanimously granted Scott Landau and Melissa Wilson a variance for a small pyramid violation of 310 cubic feet at 44 John Street. It also approved variances for Carol Rollo at 39 Garden Street, where three variances — including an 80-cubic-foot pyramid variance — will allow a single-story addition to proceed.