Embattled South Jamesport homeowner wins ZBA approvals

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The South Jamesport house as it appeared in June.

A new house in South Jamesport that has drawn complaints from neighbors about its size and potential to contribute to flooding was approved Thursday night by the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals, which ruled that the applicant already had building department and health department approvals for the house.

Builder Glen Ravn bought the home at 23 Green St. from Ashley Homes of Long Island in November and, at the time, it had a building permit.

However, it was later determined that a variance issued for the property in 2003, allowing the 16,000-square-foot lot to be separated from a 32,000-square-foot parcel, had expired. That variance was granted when Ashley Homes owned the property. The Planning Board rejected Ashley Homes’ requested subdivision in 2005 on the grounds that it didn’t comply with the new zoning, but Ashley Homes sued and was successful in state Supreme Court and again in the state Court of Appeals.

It wasn’t until this year that the town attorney’s office ruled that the variance had expired and that Mr. Ravn had to go back to the ZBA.

His application sought variances to allow a lot area of 16,125 square feet instead of the required minimum 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.

The application was approved 4-0, with ZBA member Rose Sanders abstaining.

At a previous hearing in September, Larry Simms, who owns property across the street on Dunlookin Lane, claimed that the house, as built, didn’t conform to what was proposed in the site plan and that raising the property six feet above grade would cause flooding of neighboring homes when it rains.

Deborah Lagana-Lorber, who owns a home on Willow Street, the next street over, expressed similar concerns about flooding.

Mr. Ravn said Thursday that he has all the permits he needs, and that the only reason he’s before the ZBA is because the town building department gave him a building permit in December without realizing the variance had expired. He had largely completed the house by the time the town told him in July that he needed to go to the ZBA.

Askok Agrawal, president of Ashley Homes, which sold the property to Mr. Ravn, raised objections Thursday.

Mr. Agrawal still owns the other half of the subdivision created by the 2003 ZBA ruling. He claims Mr. Ravn’s property has been raised several feet above his and that all the water and drainage from Mr. Ravn’s property will flow onto his property.

He also claims Mr. Ravn’s house, as built, is taller than the 35-foot height maximum allowed by town code.

“That’s not an issue before this board,” said ZBA attorney Scott DeSimone.

“It should be an issue,” Mr. Agrawal responded.

“We don’t create issues,” Mr. DeSimone said. He suggested Mr. Agrawal bring up his points with other town departments.

“The building department, the health department, everybody approved this, so I don’t know what the real issue is,” said ZBA member Otto Wittmeier, a former town councilman. “Plus, that area floods regardless of whether there’s a new house there.”

“His responsibility is to keep the water on his property,” ZBA chairman Fred McLaughlin said.

“He’s not doing that,” Mr. Agrawal responded.

“We don’t know that,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “All we have to go by is the permits he has received from the various agencies.”

Mr. McLaughlin said Mr. Ravn’s drainage system meets requirements.

Mr. Ravn said he has three dry wells on the property that catch rainwater from the home’s gutter system, and that he was required to raise the grade to comply with floodplain requirements.

Mr. Ravn also said his contract with Mr. Agrawal stated that Ashley Homes had to have all the permits in place before the sale was finalized.

“This man is innocent,” ZBA member Charles Sclafani said of Mr. Ravn. “And if you really want to get nasty, you could say he was duped.”

“What bothers me most is that a building permit was issued by this town with a lapsed variance,” said Georgette Keller, president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association and a member of the town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, who was also in attendance.

Ms. Keller said Mr. Ravn’s building was sent before the landmarks commission by the building department without any mention of the variance.

She said she opposed the subdivision back in 2003 because of the potential height issue.

“Unfortunately, this has all been dumped in your lap by the town to fix, because there were some major boo-boos,” Ms. Keller told the ZBA. “He had a building permit that should not have been issued.”

“That’s not an issue before us,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

“But because he was not issued a stop-work order while this was all sorted out, we in the community are left with an elephant in the neighborhood,” Ms. Keller said.

“We have to face what’s before us,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

“How many times have I been here before you,” Ms. Keller said, “where builders have done what they wanted to do? And even when they’ve known something was missing, they continued and then came before you to ask, ‘Please give it to us.’ And you don’t have to grant the variance and clean up the town’s mess.”

Ms. Keller said the error is not Mr. Ravn’s fault.

“I understand where you’re coming from, but he has the building permit and all the approvals needed,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

“The only reason I’m here is because Ashley Homes didn’t renew the variance” Mr. Ravn said. “I started building because I had a building permit and, typically, those are not issued unless all other permits are approved.”

“That was the mistake that was made,” Mr. DeSimone said. “The building department didn’t pick up on it.”

[email protected]

Looking to comment on this article? Send us a letter to the editor instead.