Joseph and Heidi Battaglia own one of the largest properties on Hobart Road, a quiet, partially one-way street that runs along Town Creek in Southold down to the beach at Founders Landing.
In the neighborhood, where lots are generally under an acre, most residents have known for years that under its current one-acre zoning, the Battaglias’ 2.3-acre waterfront lot could be divided in two parcels.
But what they didn’t know was that Mr. Battaglia would chose to rip down the house and barn that had long stood on the property and build an immense house on half the property while seeking town permission to divide the land into two lots.
The Battaglias hold all the permits they need to construct a 5,300-square-foot house and a 2,000-square-foot garage on 1.3 acres. That will become a separate lot once the subdivision is complete. Indeed, they’ve almost finished construction, but neighbors are furious over what they see as trickery and sleight of hand by Mr. Battaglia to get the maximum use out of his property.
Joe Fischetti, a professional engineer who lives across the street from the construction site, was one of several neighbors who opposed the subdivision at a Southold Town Planning Board hearing Monday night.
“[Mr. Battaglia] is a very shrewd and intelligent person. Anyone building a multi-million-dollar house has to have some smarts,” Mr. Fischetti told the board. “He said, ‘Build me the biggest house that will fit on this property.’ It sits on the 15-foot side yard setback. It’s two to three feet from the front and rear yard setbacks. It sits right on the 10-foot contour line and it’s within six inches of the height requirement. This is the biggest house that can fit on the property.”
Mr. Fischetti claimed that Mr. Battaglia, who is building the house himself, submitted plans to various boards with different determinations of where hay bales had to be placed to protect neighboring wetlands, that he cleared more than 90 percent of the lot, and that he didn’t submit a plan showing significant trees on the property until after it was already cleared.
Mr. Fischetti asked the board to require screening between the subdivision and neighboring properties, and to require that Mr. Battaglia pay a performance bond to ensure he does all the work in accordance with permits.
“We need to be protected from people like that. He thinks only of himself,” Mr. Fischetti said.
Mr. Battaglia spoke briefly at the end of the hearing, primarily to defend himself against what he calls personal attacks.
“So I own a monstrosity, but do you know me personally, my finances or what I do for a living?” he asked Mr. Fischetti. “He called me a shrewd person. I feel insulted. I have no relationship with Mr. Fischetti. I like my privacy. Everything I’ve done, I have permits for, even cleaning garbage off the beach … I did everything by the book, by the code. There’s a lot of talk out there, a lot of jealousy.”
The audience erupted with laughter at the speculation that they were jealous.
Attorney Karen Hoeg, who appeared on behalf of neighbor Andrew Semons, said Mr. Battaglia had not only over-cleared the lot, but had cut down live trees when he claimed to have cut down only dead trees. She said he had also destroyed wetlands in order to build the house.
Also at issue was an existing 25-foot dock at the northern end of Mr. Battaglia’s property, which would be part of the vacant lot after the subdivision is complete. Ms. Hoeg claimed Mr. Battaglia will need a variance to keep the dock on the vacant property, because it is an accessory structure on a property with no main residence. Mr. Battaglia has no plans at this time to develop the second lot.
Ms. Hoeg also said the dock had been replaced without permits by Mr. Battaglia, despite the fact that, because the dock is a pre-existing non-conforming use, it cannot be replaced. The town is currently in litigation with Mr. Battaglia over the dock.
Neighbor Paul Friese was also skeptical.
“This thing can be seen from space,” he said of the house under construction. “The garage doors face the creek and there’s no provision for exactly where the driveways go. There’s been erosion caused by massive changes to the property, and there’s been significant changes to the wetlands. They’ve been filled in and there are wood chips all over the property. The lots have been virtually totally cleared and that is a crime.”
Another neighbor, Jamie Davis, agreed.
“This is a historic area that is traumatized by the speed of growth. No one wants to see any more structures like this built,” he said. “I’ve always been proud to say I know every tree by name. Now some of those trees are gone. I find it hard to walk by the Battaglia travesty.”
Mr. Battaglia’s attorney, Patricia Moore, said the project has been under intense scrutiny from regulatory agencies, who have found everything he has done to be in compliance with the law.
“Mr. Battaglia is building his own house. Yes, he is building a large house, but he is a working person just like all of us. He is not a developer,” Ms. Moore said, adding that 90 percent of the lot had not been cleared. She said she had brought a landscape plan with her to show the neighbors how well concealed the house will be when it’s finished, but no neighbors present at the hearing wanted to look at it.