The case of the large South Jamesport house that one neighbor argues was built without proper permits is now before the Riverhead Town Zoning Board of Appeals.
The ZBA held a public hearing last Thursday on builder Glen Ravn’s request for three zoning variances for the 2,786-square-foot house at 23 Willow St., a property he bought in November and began construction on shortly afterward.
Mr. Ravn is seeking variances to allow a 16,125-square-foot lot area, instead of the required minimum lot size of 40,000 square feet; a front yard setback of 30 feet, instead of the required 50 feet; and a rear yard setback of 30 feet, instead of the required 60 feet.
Larry Simms, who owns property across the street on Dunlookin Lane, said the town building department alerted Mr. Ravn by letter in December that a ZBA variance obtained by the prior property owner in 2003, which allowed the land to be subdivided from an adjacent parcel, had expired.
Mr. Simms believes that Mr. Ravn shouldn’t have been able to continue building without a valid variance, but he said the building department did nothing to stop him.
Mr. Simms also contends that the house, as built, doesn’t conform to what was proposed in the site plan, and that by raising the property six feet above grade, neighboring homes will be flooded by rainwater coming off Mr. Ravn’s property. Deborah Lagana-Lorber, who owns property nearby on Willow Street, also expressed concern about flooding at the ZBA meeting. She said the area already is prone to flooding.
“It’s a beautiful home, but that’s not why we bought in South Jamesport,” she said. “This is a historic district and it has a certain charm, with smaller houses. We didn’t expect to see big mansions going up.”
Mr. Ravn told the ZBA last Thursday that he bought the property to build a home for his family and that it was part of a two-lot subdivision obtained by Ashley Homes of L.I., the previous owner.
Mr. Ravn said he was assured by both his attorney and Ashley Homes’ attorney that he could build, and said he received a building permit from the town and approval from the county health department.
Since then, Ashley Homes president Ashok Agrawal has written to the planning department asking that Mr. Ravn not be allowed to build using his permit, because he doesn’t want to be liable if something goes wrong.
Mr. Ravn acknowledged that he got a letter from the town building department saying the 2003 variance had lapsed. But he said he knew nothing of the variance at that time, and had already received building permits and health department approval.
He eventually applied for the variances, which were the subject of Thursday’s hearing.
Mr. Ravn’s property was originally part of a 32,000-square-foot parcel that was granted a subdivision in 2003 by the ZBA, which carved it into two 16,000-square-foot lots.
Zoning in the area now requires a minimum lot size of 40,000 square feet, or approximately one acre. The prior zoning called for minimum lot sizes of 20,000 square feet. The 2003 subdivision was granted shortly before the Town Board was set to approve a new Master Plan, which instituted the 40,000-square-foot lot minimum in 2004.
While subdivisions are normally the jurisdiction of the Planning Board, Ashley Homes of L.I. had originally applied for an area variance from the ZBA to allow the smaller lots, and was approved. In 2005, the ZBA also granted a one-year extension of that variance.
When Ashley Homes submitted a subdivision application to the Planning Board in 2005, it was rejected on the grounds that it didn’t comply with the new zoning. Ashley Homes took the Planning Board to court on that ruling, and was successful in both in state Supreme Court and the state Court of Appeals, which ruled that the Planning Board could not overrule the ZBA’s verdict.
The 2007 Court of Appeals ruling pointed out, however, that the ZBA approval had expired, although it said there was nothing in the ruling prohibiting the applicant from applying for a further extension.
Mr. Simms said he’d never met Mr. Ravn before Thursday’s hearing, and said Mr. Ravn seemed to be “between a rock and a hard place.” But he also said he said he didn’t believe Mr. Ravn knew nothing of the 2003 ZBA variance.
“The idea that somebody could purchase a property without doing any due diligence is hard to accept,” Mr. Simms said at the ZBA hearing.
He said Mr. Ravn shouldn’t be allowed to claim a hardship if can’t get the current variance application approved, because he was told in December that he needed the variance.
“He was told in December that a variance was needed and he proceeded without it,” Mr. Simms said. “It was his decision to put all that money at risk.”
Mr. Ravn told the News-Review earlier this year that he was required to build the house on a raised grade because of new laws regarding building in a flood plain. He also said the property is engineered so that all rainwater will stay within its boundaries.
Mr. Simms told the ZBA that since Mr. Ravn continued building after he received the December letter saying he needed a variance, the ZBA should not use the argument that it can’t make him tear the house down because he’s invested a lot of money in it.
“This board faces that decision at every meeting,” said ZBA attorney Scott DeSimone, adding that builders often erect structures before getting approvals.
The ZBA made no decision on the application Thursday and adjourned the hearing to its Sept. 22 meeting.