ZBA nixes creation of substandard lots

Builder Thomas Spurge lost his bid to subdivide a lot at 216 Monsell Place in Greenport last week and warned that he might go to court to try to overturn the ruling of the Greenport Zoning Board of Appeals.

“Likely,” was his one-word response at the June 16 meeting to the question of whether he’ll file an appeal to contest the decision.

“I think we have a few options,” said his representative, Rob Brown of Fairweather-Brown Architects in Greenport. One option that surfaced during the discussion between ZBA members and Mr. Brown was applying to the Village Board to change the zoning. While the ZBA is empowered to grant variances from the zoning code under strict guidelines, only the Village Board can actually change the rules.

Mr. Spurge faced a lot of opposition from neighbors during the more than two months that his application has been before the board. He sought to renovate an existing dilapidated house on the existing 10,646.83-square-foot lot and build a second house on a newly created parcel containing 5,347.63 square feet. The existing house would stand on a parcel of 5,299.2 square feet. The area is zoned for 10,000-square-foot lots, about a quarter acre, so both parcels would have been substandard lots with widths of 45.75 feet each. The code requires a minimum 80-foot width.

The property had previously been subdivided by previous owner Beverly Brown, former secretary to Greenport’s various boards. She lopped off a .21-acre piece that fronts on Bridge Street and sold it to neighbors. They complained that if Mr. Spurge got his new subdivision and built a house so close by, it would affect the value of their new home.

Mr. Brown pointed out that, with no board action at all, a landowner could knock down the old house and build a McMansion on the existing lot.

Was Mr. Brown threatening that’s what he would do? board members wondered.

Not at all, Mr. Brown insisted. He was simply pointing out that the existing zoning is inappropriate for the neighborhood. Many houses on Monsell Place are on lots with 50-foot widths and that’s not unusual in Greenport, Mr. Brown said.

ZBA member Ellen Neff pointed out that two houses across from Mr. Spurge’s parcel are only 32 feet in width.

“If Mr. Spurge didn’t own that property, someone could build that house,” Mr. Brown said about a McMansion. He also noted that an accessory building could be built on the existing lot without seeking a variance.

‘Soviet level red tape’

Greenport singer-songwriter Hugh Prestwood got sent back almost to square one last week when he sought to amend his original application to subdivide his property at 519 First St.

Originally seeking to create two substandard lots of 105 by 50 feet each that would front on Second Street, he thought changing his application for a lot of 115 by 50 feet would make it easier for the ZBA to approve.

Instead, he was told he would need to return to the board with a survey showing his property and the proposed subdivision.

“This strikes me as Soviet level red tape,” he complained, although later he told the board, “I apologize if I seem frustrated, but this is frustrating.”

Ms. Neff reminded him that even if he thought a formal survey of the property wasn’t needed for the subdivision, he would need it in order to sell the newly created lots should they be allowed.

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