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Sep 21, 2012 11:55 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

ZBA Approves Front-Yard Pool In Bridgehampton

Sep 26, 2012 11:25 AM

The Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals reversed itself last week and, contrary to code, granted a Bridgehampton homeowner the variances needed to construct a swimming pool and deck in her Hildreth Avenue front yard.

The board was split, 4-3, with the narrow majority voting in favor of the revised application by the homeowner, Janet Finkel, on Thursday night, September 20. Attorneys for Ms. Finkel claimed in their arguments to the board that wetlands surrounding the home make it impossible to install a pool anywhere else on the property but in the front yard.

Southampton Town code prohibits the construction of front-yard pools without such variances, except on certain properties, including those with rear yards along the waterfront. The attorneys noted that the ZBA had granted a similar variance to another house on the same street—though board members have said in the years since that the earlier variance was a regrettable error that should not have been granted—and for numerous other accessory structures, like tennis courts and garages, in front yards throughout the town where they typically are not permitted.

The decision came nearly three years after the ZBA unanimously rejected Ms. Finkel’s initial request for the variances needed to construct the pool, and less than a year after the board voted 6-1 to overturn a determination by Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa that the Finkel house was effectively “waterfront” because of the wetlands behind it, which would have allowed the pool to be built without a variance.

The application approved on Thursday was only marginally different from the original one that was resoundingly rejected—it trimmed the size of the proposed pool from 16 feet by 32 feet to 14 feet by 28 feet and shrank the decking that will surround it similarly.

But the changes to the application were apparently enough to swing the opinions of the board members in favor of Ms. Finkel. Board Chairman Herbert Phillips and members Brian DeSesa, Keith Tuthill and Denise O’Brien voted in favor of the decision, while Vice Chairman Adam Grossman, Ann Nowak and David Reilly opposed it.

“The only comment I have on it was that I voted no—and I disagree on the decision,” Mr. Grossman said on Friday morning. “I honestly don’t know whether it is going to get litigated or not, so I don’t think it would be a good idea to comment.”

Others were likewise reticent to discuss the reasons for their votes. But veteran ZBA member Keith Tuthill offered that the slight downsizing of the pool was what convinced him to change his mind.

“I always felt the applicant should have been entitled to a pool somewhere,” said Mr. Tuthill, who was among the seven board members who voted to reject the original application. “I was a little hesitant the first time, but they shrank it, and I think that makes a difference, yes.”

East Hampton attorney Jeff Bragman, who was hired to oppose the project by one of Ms. Finkel’s neighbors, David DiDomenico, said he didn’t see how just the minor changes to the application could have made such a dramatic difference to board members. “It certainly wasn’t a change in the application, because there is no substantial change that would have justified the approval,” he said. “It can’t have been precedent, because there was a mound of material presented that amounted to much ado about nothing, because the cases were not actually comparable in the least.”

Mr. Bragman speculated that possibly new board members had swung the opinion of the board, though only two of the current board—Brian DeSesa and David Reilly—were not yet on the board for the initial application. Mr. DeSesa voted in favor of the revised application last week; Mr. Reilly did not.

After the board’s initial rejection, Ms. Finkel’s attorney, John Bennett, sought the determination from Mr. Benincasa that the property was waterfront, arguing that the home is surrounded by wetlands and that the term “waterfront” was not specifically defined in the town code. Mr. Benincasa granted his request, but neighbors appealed to the ZBA, which voted to overturn the decision in December 2011 with only Mr. Phillips supporting Mr. Benincasa’s ruling. Following the determination, Ms. Finkel sued the board, and her neighbor Mr. DiDomenico, over the rejection of the building inspector’s determination. The suit is still pending.

In the wake of last week’s decision, Mr. Bennett said he was baffled by the extent of the outcry over the application and by the attention paid to the application, which he said was routine.

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Congratulations are in order. Hope you enjoy your new pool Ms Finkel maybe you could invite Harold Fisher over for some cocktails to celebrate you property rights
By 27dan (2854), Southampton on Sep 21, 12 1:26 PM
Approved, gee...whoda thought ? Please tell me where it's written in the Constitution that everyone is entitled to a swimming pool. Ah, but that's the key word...."entitled".
By lazymedic (100), southampton on Sep 21, 12 3:10 PM

Three years.
How much extra did it cost in lawyer fees?
Congrats to the homeowner , the firm and the pool company. Jobs!
By Montaukette (46), Waterland on Sep 21, 12 3:38 PM
2 members liked this comment
Good for you Ms. Finkel... Protecting private property rights from regulatory control and over zealous building inspectors has become an immense problem In our town as of late. Fed., state, and local regulations are increaseing in number and scope, property owners have increasingly found themselves unable to use their property as they intended and unable to recover the losses that result. The problem begins, therefore, with the growth of gov. regulations that deny owners the legitimate use of their ...more
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Sep 21, 12 6:34 PM
Joe, is there any issue to which you cannot apply your libertine teabaggery? Zoning laws are only totalitarian dictates in the minds of extremists
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Sep 22, 12 7:23 PM
Property. It should end with the relief that courts should be required to give in the form of compensation to those owners who survive the process, as required by the Fifth Amendment. It is a tilted system that only gives relief in a limited range of cases. That means that most property owners, bear the full costs litigation when in all fairness those costs should be borne by the local governments that forces those regulations in the first place.SEND THEM A BILL FOR ATTORNEY FEES, Mr. Finkel...and ...more
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Sep 21, 12 6:42 PM
1 member liked this comment
It has nothing to do with the zoning laws, in the US it is vey rare for attorneys fees to be awarded in any type of litigation. Generally they are only awarded when specifically authorized by statute.
By tm (174), mtk on Sep 22, 12 10:37 PM
wa·ter·front (wôtr-frnt, wtr-)
1. Land abutting a body of water.
2. The part of a town or city that abuts water, especially a district of wharves where ships dock
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Sep 21, 12 7:09 PM
I do not understand the point you are trying to make
By Undocumented Democrat (2065), southampton on Sep 22, 12 7:08 PM
That is the "legal definition" of waterfront.

A kettlehole is not a "body of water" unless it is a lake. This alleged "kettle hole" system is a BOG. Looks like the "Twinkie defense" rules another day.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Sep 22, 12 11:36 PM
It's a shame that this actually makes a headline... Further proof that the overzealous local zoning boards are completely out of control.
By The Royal 'We' (199), Southampton on Sep 22, 12 1:42 AM
Truely ashame. She is selling her property and once the pool goes in she will up the price, which is the only reason for this action. Part of zoning is looks, so now we wil have a pool in a front yard, next some one else will etc etc, so there goes the country looks of the east end. This is a really bad decision by the ZBA. Hey I want a pool in my front yard to..and a clothesline and a shed and my patio so I can bbq and watch all the neighbors go by.....
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Sep 22, 12 7:12 AM
2 members liked this comment
Thats what hedges are for
By Undocumented Democrat (2065), southampton on Sep 22, 12 7:12 PM
why is this news
By wmdwjr (76), east hampton on Sep 22, 12 2:18 PM
Add another art 78 suit to the town since the surrounding property owners will not accept the decision.more taxpayers money to defend a stupid ZBA decision,
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Sep 22, 12 7:44 PM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Sep 23, 12 9:49 PM
By They call me (2826), southampton on Sep 23, 12 11:10 PM
Intelligence is no match for stupidity in regards to the recent decisions by the ZBA regarding front yard pools.Unfortunately a homeowner recently put a pool in his front yard on Bridge Lane that was self created and had no ZBA approval and the ZBA refused to allow an open meeting about this and amended the survey thereby opening the floodgates to anyone who wants to do the same. Now we can all look forward to houses set as far back as possible on their property to allow for front yard pools, ...more
By myt231 (2), Bridgehampton on Sep 24, 12 12:14 PM
1 member liked this comment
wa·ter·front (wôtr-frnt, wtr-)
1. Land abutting a body of water.
2. The part of a town or city that abuts water, especially a district of wharves where ships dock

That is the "legal definition" of waterfront.

A kettlehole is not a "body of water" unless it is a lake. This alleged "kettle hole" system is a BOG. Looks like the "Twinkie defense" rules another day.

For that matter, when is the last time you've seen a thirty foot tree growing ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Sep 25, 12 12:32 AM
Why does Mr. Bennett asking Mike Benincasa to define waterfront sound so reminiscent of Clinton"s defense with Monica Lewinsky.That is the ultimate torturous defense of legalism. It will not pass the test. There is no question that this will have a negative impact on the neighbors and community. I don't care how many cypress and privets you throw into this decision.
By myt231 (2), Bridgehampton on Sep 26, 12 12:37 PM
2 members liked this comment
Oh that's funny... Hope she doesn't swim "nekkid".
By Allergic2Stupidity (77), Riverhead on Sep 26, 12 3:28 PM
Way to go Ms Finkle! Your uptight neighbors need to loosen up. You should throw a topless pool party as soon as the pool is completed.... You should also invite me.... I'm a 36DD and would love to be the one who rings their doorbell with a topless invitation. As for the rest of the non supporters in town... Go back to the trailer parks you came from. The only reason you oppose it is because your Hamptons address defines you. Most of you don't own your homes... Or your cars or even the clothes you're ...more
By Onfinkleside (1), Water Mill on Sep 26, 12 11:59 PM
1 member liked this comment
just read your post and the only thing I remember is 36DDDDDDDDDDDDD
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Sep 27, 12 7:11 AM
It is such a shame that this pool was allowed in a front yard. How would the
Southampton board like to have that next store to them. I am sure they would
Have voted the other way .Mrs Finkel has sold her home & does not care about
What this does to our town. If they allow pool,'s in front yard's we can kiss the
Our quaint town goodbye & hello mid island.This is a very dangerous loophole..
I am very upset that the board let this go through.
By Red7 (11), Southampton on Sep 27, 12 4:49 PM
Something smells fishy with this decision by the ZBA. No amount of chlorine will clear this one up. Here comes the Griswolds with crazy uncle eddie and the family RV- equipped with the inflatable pool to park out in the front yard. Open the door zzzzzzzzba for jacuzzis and twisting pool slides off the front porch. Why not add an old tire and rope hanging from the tree for the utlimate in family fun.
By naturalgirl1 (2), sag harbor on Sep 28, 12 9:10 PM
There was a time when an old tire swing was more than most kids had. People still complained. Seems as though they still do.
By Allergic2Stupidity (77), Riverhead on Sep 29, 12 12:50 AM
Has any pool owner figured out their cost per use????? That joke is on them. Of course, this rarely has to do with enjoying said pool, but is all about flipping and making money. Sadly, the people who believe it an entitlement and so cool to own a pool: try being the one house on the block without a pool pump going day and night, no sound reduction cover required... yep, those are loud. An amazing waste of energy and resources... But hey, it's a free country, and many of us live here and are ...more
By bh nematode (10), bridgehampton on Sep 29, 12 8:44 AM
Cost per use? I know lots of people who never, ever use their magnificent pool, never wear the designer clothing they buy, drive their uber expensive cars, etc. It's their money to spend as they please.

This woman has one ugly backyard. I just don't see how a front yard pool is going to increase her property value if she is only out for profit.
By Q333 (161), Southampton on Sep 30, 12 11:58 PM
1 member liked this comment