Tag Archive | "Anthony Petrello"

Petrello Gets OK, Village Faces Lawsuit

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By Claire Walla

After a controversial demolition hearing and a submission of an unpopular initial building plan, members of the Sagaponack Village Architectural and Historic Review Board (AHRB) finally approved the blueprint for a two-story home submitted by Anthony and Cynthia Petrello. The board made its decision at a regularly scheduled AHRB meeting last Friday, October 21.

And while an OK from the AHRB is typically a relative green light for construction, this case faces another obstacle that may prevent this structure from being built as currently proposed.

As Village Clerk Rhodi Winchell explained it, Petrello’s building application was caught up in a change in regulation. Adopted by the board last spring, the village’s new Coastal Erosion Hazard (CEH) code requires structures on oceanfront properties to be built 125 feet landward of the crest of the properties oceanfront dune. This is about 30 feet back from where Petrello’s proposed his new house to sit.

Petrello has sued the village of Sagaponack over the issue, arguing that because his building plan was approved by the DEC in December of 2010 — before the CEH was adopted — his building plan should not have to conform to the new law.

However, Winchell explained, “they were not vested.”

Had some aspect of the proposed building actually been in the ground, she said Petrello would indeed have been exempted from CEH regulations.

At this point, she added, if Petrello’s suit is successful, then this current building plan — having already been approved by the AHRB — would be able to move forward as is.

Petrello’s architect, John Sprague, explained to the board on Friday that he and chief architect Lisa Zaloga tweaked the building’s exterior to address some of the concerns AHRB board members had shared at a previous meeting. He said the footprint has not changed, but designers took away the breakaway walls the AHRB took issue with, which exposes the actual pilings and the railings of the structure.

However, should Petrello lose the suit, his architects would have to go back to the drawing board. The CEH barrier would push the building back up into a triangular-shaped property, meaning the building’s footprint would have to shrink in order to fit.

Petrello Sues Over Erosion Hazard Law

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By Claire Walla

What had sparked a wellspring of outrage from local homeowners and had even been featured in a glossy spread in Vanity Fair magazine has now turned into a lawsuit for the Village of Sagaponack.

Last month, Anthony and Cynthia Petrello filed a lawsuit against the Sagaponack Village Board of Trustees, the Sapaponack Village Planning Board and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The issue of contention is the village’s Coastal Erosion Hazard law, which was adopted in December of 2010, but went into effect in June of this year. The law effectively creates a larger buffer of land between coastline properties and the ocean, which — as it affects Petrello — means his current building application is non-compliant.

In 2010, the Petrellos finalized a deal to buy a 1.5-acre piece of property, a corner lot with a simple one-story cottage, that had belonged to the White family farm. Soon after the Petrellos bought the property, they submitted a building application to Sagaponack Village.

The plan was to tear down the existing cottage — a move that was okayed by the village’s architectural and historic review (AHRB) board in June — and erect a two-story, five-bedroom home on a footprint of 4,632 square feet. The building would be complete with a swimming pool, a library and a pool house, which would be connected to the main house by an enclosed walkway.

The plan was submitted to the village’s planning board in 2010 and approved on May 9, 2011. However, that was before the village enacted its new law.

“The new resolution we adopted gave a 125-foot buffer” between coastal buildings and the crest of the dune, said Sagaponack Village Clerk Rhodi Winchell in reference to the village’s coastal erosion hazard law. Petrello’s building application had been approved by the planning board and the DEC because the proposed building currently complies with the state’s imposed coastal erosion hazard line.

However, the village’s more generous setback would cause Petrello’s architectural team to have to redraft the building plan, pushing the structure away from the water by roughly another 30 feet.

“Had they been vested, then they wouldn’t have been in this predicament,” Winchell continued.

In other words, because no structural elements had been in place before the village passed its law, Petrello’s property is not exempt from Local Law No. 1, which, the village contends, currently requires the Petrellos to shift the plans for their new home back a bit.

Changing the architectural plans would place some strain on the Petrellos’ architect, Lisa Zaloga, who Sagaponack Village Building Inspector John Woudsma said already had her work cut out for her trying to fit the Petrello’s two-story home into that 1.5-acre parcel.

According to Woudsma, the property itself needs to sit two feet above the flood zone, and the height of the building needs to be capped at 32 feet from the natural grade, or 40 feet above mean sea level, whichever is more restrictive. This caps Petrello’s building height at 38.5 feet, which he said is pretty “squat” for a two-story structure.

Plus, because the lot itself is triangular in shape, it required the western wall to be designed in a rigid step-like shape to conform to the diagonal property line.

“For the tremendous restraints, the architect actually did a very good job,” Woudsma explained.

But, pushing the property 30 feet back would squeeze the building into an even smaller space, adding even more restriction.

In the lawsuit, drafted by Petrello’s lawyer, Nica Strunk, the plaintiffs argue that the DEC “improperly certified” Local Law No. 1 of 2011. The lawsuit goes on to explain that the Petrello’s application was part of the DEC’s “Letters of No Jurisdiction” issued on December 21, 2010, which therefore protects the Petrellos from having to comply to the village’s law.

What’s more, according to the attorneys, the New York Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), article 34 on coastal erosion “does not provide any authority for a local municipality to enact a coastal erosion hazard area law purporting to affect areas outside of the land defined in the ECL as ‘erosion hazard area.’”

Petrello’s building application is currently set to be reviewed by the AHRB at its monthly meeting this Friday, September 16, after having been postponed from last month’s meeting.

Demolition Ok’d For Meighan’s Cottage

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By Claire Walla

Anthony Petrello is one step closer to developing his beachfront land.
Last Friday, July 15 the Sagaponack Architectural and Historic Review Board (AHRB) voted in favor of an application submitted by the Texas businessman to demolish the small cottage now resting on the grounds of the nine-acre parcel he purchased from the White family in 1998. The property deed was formally transferred to his name last year.
The board voted four to one, with one absentee: Tom White. AHRB Chairwoman Ann Sandford was the lone voice of dissent, but not because she believed the building necessarily needed to be preserved on the existing site. In fact, she said she agreed with other board members that the building’s history and current condition do not actually make it historically significant.
“I voted against [the existing application for demolition] because there was another version of the [application] that allowed for an option for a third party to work with the Petrellos so that if they came up with a mutually agreed upon plan they could move the cottage to another location,” Sanford explained in an interview.
“From my perspective, a lot of people had done research; they had gotten a hold of some families [who had lived in the cottage],” she continued. “I felt that it would benefit the community to leave that option open.”
At a public hearing on June 24, the AHRB heard from several Sagaponack residents who appealed for the preservation of the building, claiming it to be a piece of Sagaponack’s history.
The 585-square-foot building on Petrello’s property is known as “Meighan’s Cottage,” and until Petrello bought the property on which it sits, “Meighan’s” was one of six small structures that had been rented out every summer for decades. (The other five are still owned by the White family). It is also thought to be the oldest, having been built in the late 1930s.
A report submitted to the AHRB that summarizes the history of the cottage highlights the fact that these cottages are the last of their kind in the village. Similar sentiments were expressed in letters submitted to the board by Sagaponack resident Bruce Kaplan, and Robert Brewer, whose father began renting a cottage from John White Sr. in 1935.
“I believe these camps are of historical interest as they show how the Sagaponack beach transitioned from raw farmland to the built-up, very high-end beach homes that exist today,” Brewer wrote. “The Meighan Camp and the other five White camps, which have been preserved, are nearly the only ones still in existence. They are a piece of Sagaponack history which deserves recognition.”
The AHRB first heard from Petrello’s lawyer, Nica Strunk, and his architect, Lisa Zaloga, at the public hearing June 28. Both Strunk and Zaloga impressed upon the board several aspects of the building’s history that they said should prevent it from being considered worthy of historic preservation. Most notably, Strunk said historic preservationist Alison Cornish had already declared the cottage “noncontributing” and thus ineligible for preservation.
In a resolution adopted last week, the board indicated it was “unable to identify how the subject of the cottage contains any distinctive architectural features of historic value or how this cottage is in any manner distinctive.”
At a meeting on August 19, the AHRB will address a building plan for the property.

Former White Family Cottage Up For Demolition

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Nika, White Property-adjusted

By Claire Walla

One powerful Texas businessman. Five members of a long-time Hamptons farm family. And 57 acres of highly valued oceanfront property.
It’s an all-too-familiar equation. In recent years, acres of East End farmland have been sub-divided and developed by wealthy individuals seeking seaside solace from the big, bustling city. A village originally named for the abundance of what once grew there, Sagaponack (a Shinnecock word meaning “land of the big ground nuts”) now has only one working seaside farm.
While the story of farmland development has been told before, the White property in Sagaponack is somewhat unique. Not only was it recently the subject of a glossy exposé in the July issue of Vanity Fair, but the 57-acre parcel is one of the last working farms in the incorporated village.
While the long fight to preserve the flat vista is still in the throes of tangled litigation, this week’s chapter centers on the Sagaponack Village Architectural and Historic Review Board (AHRB).
Last Friday, June 24, Anthony Petrello, the Texas businessman, presented an application to the Sagaponack AHRB proposing the demolition of a 585 square-foot structure on a 9-acre parcel of land he purchased from the White family in 1998.
A big part of the larger controversy stems from Petrello and White’s contract of sale for the land. Written into the rider at the end of the document is a clause in which Petrello is granted a “right of first refusal.” In other words, should any one of the Whites attempt to sell the property to someone outside the family, they would be legally obligated to court Petrello first.
The relationship between the Petrellos and the Whites goes back to the ‘90s when Petrello and his wife Cynthia first began renting one of the six summer cottages at the southern foot of the White family compound — right beside the Atlantic Ocean. From east to west, the cottages are: “Liberty Hall,” “Shangri-La,” “Dune Tip,” “Wainscott Station,” “The Model,” and “Meighan’s Cottage.”
Though Petrello spent most of his summers in “The Model,” he negotiated a deal with the White family to buy the south-west corner of the land for $2.1 million. This parcel includes “Meighan’s Cottage,” which is now his to do with as he pleases.
Well, as much as anyone in the village of Sagaponack can do with their land as they please.
The application to demolish the small cottage has been met with outrage from some in the Sagaponack community who worry that the cottage will be replaced by a massive home. Though Petrello has already submitted architectural plans to the Village of Sagaponack for a two-story structure, these blueprints were not up for review last week.
During the public comment portion of last Friday’s meeting, Sagaponack resident and lawyer Bruce Kaplan explained his position as a community member bent on preserving the low-key atmosphere of the agricultural community. Together with other Sagaponack residents, Kaplan previously opposed the construction of the controversial 63-acre compound built by investment banker Ira Rennert in the late ‘90s, an event which largely led to the creation of Sagaponack as an incorporated village in 2005, giving the community more local control over such matters.
“One of your most important functions is to preserve buildings that possess special character, or value as part of the social or political [character] of the village,” he told the board.
Kaplan went on to explain the historical importance of the strip of six cottages on the White property (including “Meighan’s,” which belongs to Petrello) to the history of the Sagaponack community.
They are important, not only for the significance of the buildings themselves — “Meighan’s” was reportedly built by John White Sr.’s half-brother in the 30s — “but for the people who occupied them,” Kaplan said.
He told the board that Howard Meighan, who commissioned construction of the cottage, was an executive at CBS.
“Meighan was a person of some distinction,” Kaplan went on.
He urged the board to preserve “Meighan’s Cottage” by denying Petrello’s application for demolition: “Do not let it fall victim to a wrecking ball, caught in the path of a Texas tornado.”
However, according to lawyer Nica Strunk who is representing Petrello, “Meighan’s Cottage” lacks enough historical significance to be saved. Not only that, it presents major health hazards.
And while she gave in great detail her reasons for the property’s demolition, she began her case by addressing the board on a more personal matter.
“Before I begin talking about the legal issues, I wanted to explain a serious concern that we have as attorneys for the applicants,” Strunk detailed. “We’re worried that this meeting today really has less to do with the fact that there is a 585 square-foot building on this property and more with the people who are involved in this matter.”
She noted that local publications — not to mention the Vanity Fair piece — have outlined the personal dispute that’s welled up between Anthony and Cynthia Petrello and the White family. Strunk urged the board not to weigh its decision on White’s good reputation in the community — his family has farmed the same land since the end of the 17th century — but rather to “treat Anthony and Cynthia Petrello the way you would treat every other member of this village.”
Strunk criticized the board for calling a public hearing on this matter, when similar issues in the past did not warrant additional public discussions. Later, AHRB President Ann Sanford would defend the board’s decision, explaining that the public hearing was voted on unanimously by the board.
“It has been our practice [to call a public hearing] if one or more residents step forward,” she said. “That was a signal to me that this was an important issue for the community.”
Strunk continued, “Local gossip and inflammatory articles in Dan’s Papers could have a negative impact on the members of this village. It is imperative that [these issues] do not affect this board.”
Apart from personal matters, Strunk said the cottage is not historically relevant. Besides the fact that the structure has actually been moved from its original pilings, she noted that the architectural elements (sloped roof, partial sheet-rocking) don’t carry architectural relevance.
Plus, according to a report by historian Alison Cornish in 2000, Strunk explained the structure was labeled “non-contributing” as part of a survey of historic structures, which included buildings in Sagaponack.
Rounding off Strunk’s presentation, local architect Lisa Zaloga told the board that the building is, in fact, non-conforming to FEMA regulations, the pilings contain creosote and the interior tested positive for lead paint. Restoring the structure, she said, would be “almost impossible.”
“In terms of preservation, to make this building any kind of habitable structure, we would have to heat it, the roof-rafters are not sized correctly [and would] have to be removed and it would have to be insulated,” she explained.
“I’m concerned that there might be some people who idealize this property for what beach-front property should be,” Strunk continued. “The building is so small that it doesn’t even meet house size standards.”
“It is not under any standard worthy of preservation,” she concluded.
However, resident Edie Lutnick, whose property sits adjacent to Petrello’s land, echoed neighbor Bruce Kaplan.
She said she does not know either Petrello or the Whites very well and thus concluded, “I don’t have any bias either way.”
“I do, however, look out my window, and I look at the cottages down the line and it’s convenient to say that 500 square-feet is small. These cottages make up a whole, and they make up a whole on a farm that all of us have come to love,” she explained. “To take these cottages as if they are distinct individual things that you can take apart and rip away one by one is a disservice to the residents of Sagaponack.”
Lutnick urged the board to preserve the building in order to keep the historic nature of the cottage community intact.
“The reality is, this doesn’t have to be a residential structure. You can move the house back in compliance with the coastal erosion zone,” she added. “There is a way here that everyone can win.”
The hearing is now open for a 10-day comment period, which will close on Monday, July 4.
At the end of the hearing, Sagaponack Village Attorney Anthony Tohill asked Strunk whether or not it would be possible to preserve the building, but relocate it to another piece of land off of White’s parcel.
“I of course anticipated that question,” Strunk said with a grin. “The clients are open to that option. Our main goal right now is to get a building permit on this lot, and this is one of the steps. If there is any reasonable suggestion, we are open to it.”