Zoning Board Struggles with Legalizing As-Built Construction

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The house at 8 Wilson Place. Christine Sampson photo

The Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals last Tuesday began weighing variances for two properties, 8 Wilson Place and 19 Cuffee Drive, to legalize construction work that has already taken place.

In the case of 8 Wilson Place, belonging to Delia Brennen and Julio Leitao under the name of Sharon Jones Trust, a two-story, modern, cube-shaped house clad in black corrugated aluminum allegedly violates a zoning rule governing the height and mass of roofs, known as the pyramid law.

“The house went through many gyrations and things got lost in translation,” said architect Anne Sherry, who took responsibility for the mistake.

The Sag Harbor building inspector did not catch the mistake, either, and the building — which involved concrete components — was nearly complete before neighbors noticed something was amiss. According to zoning board documents, the pyramid violation would require a variance of around 4,000 cubic feet. The house would also need a two-foot side yard setback variance on one side to remain 13 feet from the property line where 15 feet is the normal distance required.

“I feel for the person who’s building it but it does not conform to the area,” said John Brannen, who lives across the street. “It’s another sore spot for our area because we’ve got a lot of properties that have been worked on.”

The zoning board told Ms. Sherry and Mr. Leitao they would need an as-built survey, a copy of the original building plans and other documentation before it would make any decisions, and tabled the application to its May 21 meeting.

In the case of 19 Cuffee Drive, builder Michael Brosnan himself brought a mistake to the village’s attention. A surveyor had staked out the foundation incorrectly, he said, resulting in the house being built too close to the road. Two village inspections of the property, he said, did not pick up the error.

Mr. Brosnan told the zoning board he discovered the error as he was installing the septic system and was “baffled by how it got so tight” on the property. He said he ultimately realized the plans contained setback numbers for the wrong municipality. When he approached the village to legalize the house, the building inspector said he would need a new front yard setback variance to remain 23.8 feet from the lot line, where 35 feet is normally required. A side yard variance is also needed for the cellar entrance, which is 13.6 feet from the property line, where 15 feet is usually required.

“It’s crowding the street and that’s a problem,” ZBA member Robert Plumb said.

Mr. Brosnan, who said he is building the house to eventually sell it, suggested easing the impact of the error using creative landscaping.

His attorney, Alex Kriegsman, told the board, “It would be an enormous burden in cost to move this back. It appears closer right now because everything’s bare. There are other houses with the same setback.”

At the close of the hearing on 19 Cuffee Drive, Mr. Plumb said there’s “sort of an ongoing issue with people building things that are not on the plans.”

“What are we supposed to do? Just say it’s okay and then the next person does it and it’s okay again?” he said.

The zoning board ultimately asked for a landscaping plan from Mr. Brosnan and tabled the matter to its April 16 meeting.

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