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Jan 18, 2012 10:24 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Bridgehampton Homeowner Fights Southampton Decision Over Front Yard Pool

Jan 18, 2012 3:55 PM

A Bridgehampton homeowner who sought permission to install a pool in her front yard by claiming she had waterfront property is going to court over a recent Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals decision denying her request.

Janet Finkel, the owner of a home on 41 Hildreth Avenue, filed suit in State Supreme Court last week against the ZBA and David DiDomenico, a neighbor who opposed her project. The suit challenges a decision by the board that rejected the argument of her attorney, John Bennett, that her swampy backyard, which is filled with phragmites and small pools of water, should be considered waterfront.

The town zoning code prohibits front-yard pools unless a lot is deemed to be on the waterfront—in which case the designation of front and rear lots can be swapped for development purposes.

The ZBA’s decision was “incorrect,” said Mr. Bennett on Tuesday. There’s no definition of the term “waterfront” in the town code, and in any such instance of ambiguity in the law, the court usually sides with the property owner, he said.

“Everyone on the East End forgets this, unless their own ox is being gored,” Mr. Bennett said. “The law is if there’s any ambiguity, it gets construed in favor of the homeowner.”

Ms. Finkel’s neighbors have opposed the project at every turn. In 2009, Ms. Finkel’s request to the ZBA for a variance to construct a 16-foot-by-32-foot front-yard pool was denied. She tried again for a variance to construct a smaller, 10-foot-by-18-foot pool, and the decision on that application is still pending. At the same time, Mr. Bennett requested that Southampton Town Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa determine whether or not Ms. Finkel’s property could be defined as waterfront. Mr. Benincasa ruled in her favor in 2010. Some neighbors, including Mr. DiDomenico, who is represented by East Hampton attorney Jeffrey Bragman, appealed the building inspector’s ruling, which concluded last month when the ZBA sided with the neighbors and voided Mr. Benincasa’s ruling.

Overturning the ZBA decision would go “against common sense,” Mr. Bragman said this week.

“It’s a bizarre stretch of the English language to say that a building inspector can call any water he sees on a property sufficient to call it waterfront,” he said. “The second thing is that it’s extraordinarily dangerous for the Town of Southampton. On the most benign level it makes the zoning very unpredictable and impossible to anticipate.”

Mr. Bennett said the project has once again been amended to propose a 15-foot-by-31-foot pool, which is slightly smaller than the original requested. He said he requested that the ZBA consider holding another public hearing on the amended project. The ZBA is scheduled to make a decision on Ms. Finkel’s variance request for the 10-foot-by-18-foot pool when it meets on Thursday at 7 p.m.

All told, it has probably cost Ms. Finkel more money to pay for ZBA applications and legal fees than the price of a pool, speculated ZBA Vice Chairman Adam Grossman.

“There certainly is a lot of activity over a very small pool,” Mr. Grossman said. “But you know, if that’s what people want to do to put the time and effort into doing that, that’s their call.”

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Can't we all just get along? It probably would have been cheaper to move the house to the front yard, and use the existing basement for the pool.
By Born Here (26), HB on Jan 18, 12 9:11 PM
we live by the finest ocean and bay beaches in the world and she wants to lay about by a pool in a swamp? Next she'll sue the town because of bugs. Blow up the canal bridge !
By lazymedic (100), southampton on Jan 18, 12 9:43 PM
3 members liked this comment
The homeowner does not have waterfront property..
By lucy2 (63), Southampton, NY on Jan 19, 12 6:37 AM
Sure it's waterfront; look at any map-her backyard borders on " Benincasa Bay"! NOT!
By cedric (22), Southampton on Jan 19, 12 10:58 AM
1 member liked this comment