Packed house at ZBA debates two controversial proposals

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Riverhead attorney Anthony Tohill argued Wednesday night that the Shelter Island Yacht Club application to use adjacent land for club purposes shouldn’t have been required.

It was a raucous night for the Shelter Island Zoning Board of Appeals facing two  applications attracting a large number of people expressing their views.

Many members of the Shelter Island Yacht Club were there to support an application allowing for use of an adjacent lot for various functions that could include parking, boat storage or  a tennis court.

Another group was there both for and against an application from Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat for a variance meant to bring their house at 60 Cartwright Road, — without a certificate of occupancy for three-and-a-half years — into compliance.

Riverhead attorney Anthony Tohill began the night arguing that the approval now being sought by the Shelter Island Yacht Club is identical to a decision that granted use of the property for club use back in 1971. But what brought the issue back after all these years is that the 1971 approval was never exercised because it was contingent on the property being purchased by the club and that never happened.

Instead, the property belongs to the Shelter Island Development Corporation that was created by the club. Mr. Tohill argued that ownership of the lot has no impact on the requested variance, telling the ZBA that its jurisdiction rests with decisions about lot lines, height and size of buildings, percentage of lot coverage allowed by buildings and use of the land. He cited what he said were precedent-setting cases that maintained that a ZBA variance went to the property, not the owner and that New York State Court of Appeals decisions have upheld that fact. One case involved an upstate ZBA that granted permission to Wegman’s for a food store, then tried to repeal the variance when the store was sold to another owner. Once the store was established with the variance, who owned it had no relevance, the judgment said.

“A use variance runs with the land,” Mr. Tohill said.

But neighbor Anna Marie Flower implored the ZBA not to listen to the argument, saying  she lives on Chequit Avenue and, “It has become a carnival and a circus.”

The narrow street leading to the Yacht Club requires vehicles to use driveways for turnarounds; poses dangers to anyone walking on the street; and wouldn’t enable emergency vehicles to reach the club or houses in an emergency.

Ms. Flower and her husband purchased their house 25 years ago seeking “peace and tranquility,” but that has changed as the club has expanded its activities.

“The Yacht Club has outgrown this space,” Ms. Flower said. “They’re making a lot of money and the value of my property is deteriorating,” she said.

The hearing was kept open for written comments through May 8.

Next up were property owners of a controversial house at 60 Cartwright Road. People either love it or hate it, said Greenport attorney Valerie Marvin, who represents the owners. But Shelter Island has no architectural board of review and the question isn’t one of taste, she said.

Neighbors gasped when Ms. Marvin said the house has no certificate of occupancy and their later comments revealed that the house has been occupied and used as a rental unit for several years.

Problems developed for the owners when they made changes to the structure after plans had been approved in 2006. That created issues both for the town Building Department and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services because the house was no longer the structure for which permits had been granted.

Ms. Marvin said she wasn’t involved in the original application, but that when she stepped in this year, she was faced with both the Building Department and Department of Health saying the other one had to move first to approve the structure as built.

She finally won a thumbs up from the Health Department and is now moving to win the approval that would result in a certificate of occupancy for the house. But while several neighbors wrote letters in support of the application, more showed up at Town Hall Wednesday night to argue that Mr. Stamberg and Mr. Aferiat haven’t been good neighbors.

Although some complained about the look of the house, most raised the issue of noise emanating from the structure.

When Ms. Marvin’s clients first applied for a building permit, they said they were told they couldn’t get a ZBA variance to construct the house they wanted and that forced them into a design that included a connecting passage between two parts of the original structure that just didn’t work.

They took down that structure, resulting in a main house and an accessory building, but that resulted in the house not matching the plans that had been approved.

Both Building Inspector William Banks and Building Permit Coordinator Mary Wilson said no one ever told the pair they couldn’t seek a variance.

“What we wouldn’t give for a truthful, factual application,” Ms. Wilson said.

If neighbors got everything they want, they would require buffers to block off sight of the property; have the house painted another color; and require a noise abatement study to determine what could be done to keep noise from traveling.

The corrugated metal and concrete materials used in the building and presence of a swimming pool are causing noise to be amplified, one neighbor said.

“We want something to subdue the house,” neighbor Valerie Levinstein said.

The ZBA left the hearing open for written comments through May 8.