- The controversy over a proposed commercial building slated for construction at 132 North Main Street in East Hampton has moved to litigation, as a group of neighborhood residents have banded together in opposition to a structure they contend will tarnish the surrounding area. The residents, represented by local attorney Jeffery Bragman, have filed an Article 78 challenging the town's Architectural Review Board (ARB) and Planning Board's approval of the application, claiming that the environmental review process was flawed.
Architect Paul Masi designed the building for long-term
sustainability while attempting to merge a contemporary style
with North Main Street's historic feel.
The building was designed by East Hampton resident and architect Paul Masi, of the firm Bates-Masi Architects which expects to occupy the second floor of the new building along with the building's co-owner attorney Jonathan Tarbet, who was formerly employed by the town. The proposed plan leaves the ground floor reserved for a yet to be named commercial operation.
Masi claims to have designed a sustainable, energy efficient structure that he and Tarbet, and apparently the ARB and Planning Board, deem suitable to the neighborhood, fitting into the aesthetics of North Main Street while posing no negative impacts on the environment. The square
structure building will be clad in recycled removable cedar shingles that can be rotated to mitigate the effects of weathering over time and on the roof a botanical garden, designed to insulate the offices and absorb stormwater, is to be constructed.
The 4,673-square-foot building was awarded LEED status (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) by the U.S. Green Building Council as well as commendation from the Peconic branch of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for the design's environmental consciousness and long-term sustainability.
Historic Character And An Elderly Neighbor
The residents in opposition to the proposed office building are claiming that the large cement cube is incongruous with the surrounding neighborhood, which they contend should be turned into a historic district. Part and parcel of their argument is the Selah Lester House and Barn, located directly across the street at 131 North Main on a property purchased by the town in 2005 tapping the Community Preservation Fund (CPF), a two percent tax on real estate transfers within the Peconic region earmarked for conservation of open space and historic landmarks.
The East Hampton Town Board designated the Selah Lester House and Barn on North Main Street as historic landmarks at their Dec. 19 meeting. The buildings will be restored over the course of the next year using CPF funds set aside for stewardship of acquired properties.
Bragman and the aggrieved neighbors have stated that the presence of the historic Lester homestead should qualify the North Main Street area for protection from new-age buildings that don't fit with the neighborhood's aesthetics.
Local attorney Jeffrey Bragman is representing the disgruntled
neighbors in the legal proceeding.
The 250-year-old building was originally constructed on a parcel in Amagansett and moved to its place on North Main Street by Selah Lester in 1875, the same year he is presumed to have built the barn in the rear of the property. The home and barn are being awarded historic designation by the Town of East Hampton and restored using funds apportioned out of the CPF's management and stewardship budget, whereupon the house will act as a free, open museum and the headquarters of the Town Department of Land Acquisition, which manages CPF properties and spending.
There has been confusion and controversy over that parcel as well, as the 2.88 acres were originally designated as an open space acquisition at the time of purchase rather than for the purpose of preserving a historic landmark, leading some to question the legality of historic restoration using CPF revenues and the validity of conferring landmark status upon it.
However, the Town Board has been unequivocally supportive of the historic designation and subsequently Bragman maintains that the ARB and Planning Board were negligent in their review of how the proposed commercial structure would impact the nature of surrounding environment. "We're not saying they looked at evidence and said it was wrong," Bragman clarified, "They consistently ignored the evidence completely," he claimed.
Bragman is arguing that the boards approved the application without consideration for the historic building across the street, going as far to ignore his offer to supply expert witnesses to testify. "Not only did they refuse to look at the evidence, they repudiated the historic value of the Lester house."
A Discerning Eye
The Planning Board requested an analysis of the building and its relation to North Main Street by the town's historic consultant Robert Hefner
, who was also retained by the Town Board to consult on the restoration of the Lester home.
In a March 20, 2008 letter to the Planning Department, Hefner noted that while "the [North Main Street] corridor does not have a strong historic character, when the proposed building is viewed in the context of its rural and informal surroundings, and especially in relation to the historic Selah Lester property across the street, it appears that adjustments could be made to achieve a more harmonious relationship." The applicants proceeded to make adjustments to their proposal according to a number of Hefner's suggestions, including trading certain building materials with more conforming choices and adding a wall along the southern exposure to reduce the imposition of the second-story overhang.
The building is slated to sit between Nick and Toni's Restaurant and Hudson City Bank, across the street from the historic Selah Lester Home on North Main Street.
The Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) Part II, drafted by the Planning Department for the Planning Board in December 2008, stated that the applicants had made substantial changes to the building, addressing all of the issues raised by Hefner. Hefner wrote a letter to the department on Dec. 17 clarifying his position with respect to the alterations, stating that "the simplest way to accurately phrase my involvement is to say that the applicant responded to some, but not all, of the concerns raised in my letter of March 20, 2008." Included in the letter were a number of revisions to the EAF document toning down some of the supportive language attributed to Hefner's analysis.
"I intended that letter [of March 20] as a beginning of a process of considering this building in its context," Hefner explained in his December letter, distancing himself from the boards' conclusions.
Bragman is contending that the Planning Board did not fully review Hefner's concerns and neglected to consider the total impact of the proposed building on the community and the Lester property in specific, prompting the North Main Street residents to file an article 78 against the ARB and Planning Board, challenging the negative declaration (the board's finding that there will not be any adverse affects on the neighborhood).
While the application has yet to gain final approval, the negative declaration "is a very strong indicator that this building will be built," according to Bragman. For the opposed residents, this may be their last chance to stop it.
The town retained attorney Maureen Liccione, of the firm Jaspan and Schlesigner, as representation for the case, however several phone calls to Liccione's office went unanswered over the past few weeks.