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Mar 16, 2010 7:49 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Town code is easy, enforcement is hard

Mar 16, 2010 7:49 PM

As the summer season approaches and East Hampton businesses that were shuttered for the winter begin to reopen their doors, so will the businesses that some neighbors would prefer remained closed—those located in residentially zoned districts.

Homeowners who rent rents rooms in their house, or the entire house, and advertise it as a bed and breakfast or inn are the most common types of businesses in residential zones, said Dominic Schirrippa, director of East Hampton Town Ordinance Enforcement, but businesses run by landscapers, masons and other tradespeople also appear.

Mr. Schirrippa said the town code allows certain businesses, such as barber shops or medical offices, to operate in residential districts. It also allows up to two rooms be rented in someone’s residence, provided that the property owner lives at the premises. What the code does not allow, he said, is heavy machinery running through a neighborhood or a congregation of workers in someone’s yard. And while the code does not typically allow transient renting, it does allow a homeowner to rent a house for no more than a two-week period, not to exceed three times in six months, Mr. Schirrippa said.

“Nearly any business enterprise conducted for the purpose of making a profit may sacrifice other values critical to residential neighborhoods,” the town code reads. “Thus, the courts have long recognized the right of municipalities to entirely segregate business uses from such districts and to otherwise prevent unwarranted commercialization from encroaching therein, including that commercialization caused by the misuse of single-family residences.”

There are exceptions written into the code that allow businesses like bed and breakfasts to be run in homes on Montauk Highway or other streets that are zoned for limited business use.

But Mr. Schirrippa said it is not as easy to enforce a code as it is to write one. He said there are six full-time and one part-time employee in the ordinance department who patrol the town daily to look for evidence of infractions. He said the department also works from formal complaints filed with his office, usually from neighbors concerned about noise or parking issues.

Though Mr. Schirrippa said the problem of businesses operating in residential neighborhoods is “prevalent” in East Hampton, he did not have a record of how many of the complaints received by his office were specifically related to the issue. Ordinance officers are required investigate every claim, he said.

If officers find evidence of a business operating illegally, they will issue summonses requiring the owner to appear in town Justice Court. Mr. Schirrippa said that last year only about two or three cases went to Justice Court, and currently, his department is trying to bring charges against a masonry operating from Central Avenue in Amagansett.

Meryl Wunderlich, who moved into a house on Central Avenue two years ago, said she and her husband were shocked to realize what they thought would be a quiet cul-de-sac turned out to be a noisy hub of commercial activity. Not only does a masonry business operate across the street, but other neighbors run a “lively” bed and breakfast that’s advertised online, she said.

Ms. Wunderlich said noise and traffic are always a problem on her street.

“It’s gotten very stressful and it’s just not right,” she said. “I don’t know how they can get away with it.”

Often, Mr. Schirrippa said, it’s because his officers can’t document enough evidence to justify bringing a business to court. It also requires some degree of cooperation from the alleged business owner. He said the town brought the Central Avenue masonry to court in January and are having a difficult time dealing with the landowner.

He said that illegal renting is difficult to identify because guests claim they are friends or relatives of the owners.

“It’s difficult to track down and it’s hard to prove,” he said.

The problem also occurs in East Hampton Village. Jehovina Kelsall, who lives across the street from the East Hampton Village Bed and Breakfast on Newtown Lane, complained about the basic commotion caused when multiple parties use a single-family residence.

“I hear people coming in and out at night, at one in the morning,” she said. “I hear cars locking, doors closing, people laughing.”

Ms. Kelsall’s complaints were heard, along with those of many of her neighbors, at a February 26 hearing before the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals when the owners of the establishment, Michael and Marianne Kaufman, appeared before the ZBA for a review of additions to the property, including a pool and pool house that were already completed.

The Kaufmans have run a legal four-room bed and breakfast from their residence on Newtown Lane in the village since 1986. Because of their commercial operations, the Kaufmans’ needed the ZBA’s approval for their additions. The Kaufmans were unaware they needed approval and had already spent about $70,000 constructing the pool when they appeared before the ZBA last month.

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How about checking up on year-round illegal housing? Maybe in a place like, well SPRINGS? There is residence on Neck Path, which may be a home, a motel, or a weekend volleyball arena, I'm not really sure?
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on Mar 17, 10 10:00 AM
1 member liked this comment
"... last year only about two or three cases went to Justice Court, and currently, his department is trying to bring charges against a masonry operating from Central Avenue in Amagansett..." With 6 or 7 full time staff? ... if they can't get meaningful results, such as by setting up 24/7 video monitoring, then the entire dept should be eliminated. Frankly it sounds like Mr. Schirrippa isn't interested in zoning enforcement, much less results, just in making lame excuses. Give it to the Buildings ...more
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Mar 17, 10 1:22 PM
Seems likes pictures and documentation means nothing to code enforcement. Or is it that someone working in the office has an "in" with illegal landlords because it seems to me that when you make a complaint about illegal living conditions, before code enforcement can even show up, the houses are emptied out and the complaints are thrown out for lack of evidence ....hmmmmmmm . The fact that Mr. Schirrippa was not able to document what Mr. Torres had documented leads one to think, no? Cars coming ...more
By utahgirl1970 (8), East Hampton on Mar 17, 10 2:47 PM
These are quality ofn life issues that no politician wants to deal with since the absentee landlord are their bigggest contibuters. And even if they did, they will get blamed for "increasing the size of town and village government." Or maybe civil rights issues will be scare tactics used by the opposing party to scare off the "do gooders." or maybe "freedom", and "prvate property rights" will be argued. Whatever, you're quality of life and peace will suffer by the inbred system of corruption ...more
By kelbas (30), Southampton on Mar 18, 10 12:11 AM
Unfortunately, those of us who suffer from illegal housing and zoning are the middle class. We live in the nieghborhoods where most of the infrcations occur. There aren't many illegal living situations on FURTHER LANE. Certain parts of Springs are out of control. It has also resulted in the overcrowding of a school district that does not have the revenue to handle it. The town has done little if nothing to stop it.
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on Mar 18, 10 12:26 PM
michael has run his bed and breakfast in the village for more than 20 years now that he has a new neighbor with more time and money than he knows what to do with now there is a problem.good luck michael with your new neighbor
By asurest (117), easthampton on Mar 19, 10 7:28 PM
The debts of this town could be settled ten fold if code enforcement took an agressive approach on overcrowded housing.
By BlueStreak (34), East End on Mar 23, 10 7:27 PM
1 member liked this comment
Years ago the town made a huge mistake. They allowed residential areas to be built in places where commercial areas should have been built. Like Fort Pond Blvd, the area around the airport, etc. Now we have a huge lack of commercial space so we are forced to run our businesses out of our homes. I feel for the woman on Central Ave, but you should have done more reasearch about your potential neighbors before buying.
By Happy in Springs (12), Springs on Mar 25, 10 9:08 AM