The East Hampton Town Planning Board appeared divided over an application for the Sag Harbor Cottages on Route 114 at a meeting last month, but discussions stalled as the board awaited a second letter from East Hampton Town Chief Building Inspector Thomas Preiato about the legality of the development under the town code.
The owner of the aging motel, once called the Barcelona Inn, has proposed to demolish the existing motel and replace it with 12 individual cottages, an open pavilion, a management office, a pool with accompanying cabana lounge area, pool house, and storages sheds on the close to six-acre parcel. The proposal will not require any variances from the zoning board of appeals.
On May 19, some board members said they remained unsure about the use of proposed accessory structures, but the main discussion revolved around whether the project was legal under town code and if it the addition of a pool and “amenities” was an expansion of a pre-existing, nonconforming use, and therefore illegal.
The property is zoned residential, although the motel predates zoning and therefore can re-develop under its current use, although it must remain a transient motel and cannot expand its nonconforming use. The current motel is on the property line while the proposed project sets the new motel in a conforming location that meets setbacks. It would also be screened from Route 114, unlike the current motel, said East Hampton attorney Jon Tarbet, who represents 765 Route 114 – the company hoping to develop the property. Tarbet added the proposal would not increase floor area, and therefore would not expand the non- conforming use, a notion seconded by planning board member Reed Jones at the May 19 meeting.
But board member Peter Van Scoyoc questioned whether new structures could replace pre-existing buildings and whether the addition of a pool and amenities would expand the property’s non-conformity.
Despite a previous determination from senior building inspector Don Sharkey, who is now deceased, the planning board asked Preiato to determine whether the proposed cottages met the definition of a transient motel as the structures do not share common walls, although are proposed to be connected through decks and fencing. In a November 2009 letter to the board, Preiato said the structures did not meet the definition of a transient motel, but in a new letter, written in February 2009, Preiato clarified his determination by discussing the intent of the town’s code.
“Upon my further review, it is apparent to me that the intent of the Code is certainly being met as the design of the structures do not lend themselves to be misconstrued as single family residences,” writes Preiato.
Preiato also states that, “accessory structures do not count towards an expansion of the pre-existing, non-conforming use on the above referenced property.”
Tarbet said on Monday, that this was the same determination made by Sharkey when he first reviewed the application some three years ago.
Both are determinations only the town building inspector, not the planning board, can make under law, although the building inspector’s opinions can be challenged in front of the town zoning board of appeals.
Tarbet said other issues still on the table before the board include a revised re-vegetation and landscape plan, as the board had questions regarding clearing calculations. He said a complete and final landscape plan will be submitted this week, along with an expanded narrative about the project and its uses, as requested by board member Sylvia Overby.
Overby and Eileen Catalano have both expressed concern about the project’s effects on neighboring wetlands, although Tarbet said this week the project would sit some 300-feet from wetlands.
“This is one of those projects where I can’t think of a negative,” said Tarbet. “I can’t think what is bad in taking down a rundown motel, moving it to where you can’t see it from the highway while not making it any bigger.”
Tarbet said he hopes to be on the planning board’s calendar later this month.