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Jun 19, 2013 11:53 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

110,000 Square Foot Sagaponack Estate Has No Room For Pilates Training

Jun 19, 2013 1:48 PM
Last week’s meeting of the Sagaponack Village Zoning Board of Appeals transcended the typically sleepy minutiae of such meetings. The discussion included the principles at the foundation of zoning codes, and a dash of irony. There was even a little Shakespeare.

At issue were two applications before the zoning board by homeowners with intimate connections to the rules by which they are now to be judged.

Ira Rennert’s mammoth estate, more than 110,000 square feet of buildings on 63 acres but still considered a single-family home, is among the largest private residences in the country. It was the catalyst, when it was approved in the late 1990s, for changes to zoning codes throughout eastern Long Island, and it gave birth to some of the first discussions of Sagaponack forming its own village government, which it did in 2005.

So the application before the board on Friday afternoon, asking for relief from the village’s zoning laws to allow an addition to one of two pool houses on the property, for a Pilates studio and a bathroom, presents a relatively small issue for the board—but, at the same time, a grand one.

“We’re talking about a 633-square-foot addition to a pool house in the middle of a 55-acre lot,” Mr. Rennert’s attorney, Gilbert Flanagan of Southampton, told board members, referencing the size of the developed property, which does not include dunelands and wetlands. “It’s hundreds, if not thousands, of feet from any other residential property. You’d have to have to be in an airplane to see it.”

Mr. Flanagan’s argument that the addition is tiny in comparison to the amount of development already on the property—and therefore is insignificant in the sense of impacts on surrounding properties that zoning codes were designed to protect against—seemed an easy answer to the zoning test of whether the benefit to the applicant substantially outweighs the detriment to the community or neighbors. Certainly, nobody outside Mr. Rennert’s compound would ever know the additional space existed.

But the zoning board chairman, Elliot Meisel, pointed out to Mr. Flanagan that the code also introduces a handful of roadblocks to applications such as that of Mr. Rennert, when one considers that the Rennert property already exceeds almost every limit on residential development many times over.

“Under our code, you’re not allowed to expand nonconforming structures, even if the increase is insubstantial,” Mr. Meisel said. “The code asks whether the benefits sought can be reasonably achieved by some other manner that does not require a variance. It also asks why this variance has been requested rather than complying with village code. Could a Pilates studio be located elsewhere?”

Mr. Meisel and several members of the community expressed the sentiment that while the empirical impacts of the proposal were undoubtedly nonexistent, the intellectual argument for upholding the laws is stacked decidedly against Mr. Rennert.

“I don’t even object to the square footage,” said Tinka Topping. “It’s a question of principle.”

“I don’t object to the Rennert house anymore—I look straight at it, and I’ve accepted it,” Linda Franke said. “But I find it hard to believe that there could not be some place to tuck in a Pilates studio, which has nothing to do with swimming. I think he could find a place.”

While residents repeatedly asked, “When is enough, enough?” the tenor of the board, which was largely silent other than Mr. Meisel, seemed to be passed along by the chairman.

“It’s a question of whether to grant a variance from existing code,” he said. “It’s all very important. Even while the 630 square feet may not be a detriment to the community, I believe we have a duty to uphold the integrity of the existing law.”

The ZBA took no action on the application, asked for more information, and adjourned the matter.

Variance Sought

Mr. Rennert may have been a reason the zoning code in Sagaponack was written—but Patrick Guarino actually wrote it. And on Friday afternoon, he found himself asking to be freed, quite substantially, from the constraints he helped write.

Mr. Guarino, an attorney, helped shepherd the incorporation of Sagaponack as a village in 2005 and, as a village trustee a couple of years later, was instrumental in the drafting the language of the village’s zoning code to constrain the size of residential structures. In doing so, he apparently set aside the consideration that he himself might someday be “hoist with your own petard,” as Mr. Meisel put it, in a nod to “Hamlet.”

Mr. Guarino’s house, which he purchased in 1989, is already 89 square feet over the existing maximum size for his lot under the current code, so any expansion would require a variance. The variance request asks that he be allowed to add more than 2,200 square feet, most of it in a new garage, so that an existing garage area could be converted to living space.

Mr. Guarino said that since the creation of the village’s zoning code, he and his wife have had two children, and they have found that the “upside-down” design of their house is impractical.

Like Mr. Rennert’s counsel, Mr. Guarino’s architect, David Sherwood, made the case that much of the new space would be out of sight and would not change the apparent mass of the house visible off the property.

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By SidViscuous (26), on Jun 19, 13 3:01 PM
1 member liked this comment
Why not. It's his property and money.
By realistic (472), westhampton on Jun 19, 13 7:38 PM
3 members liked this comment
The boards think they own your house
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 19, 13 11:02 PM
^^ Yea screw zoning! What good is it?

** Please note the Shinnecock Indian Reservation has NO Zoning. Doesn't it look SO pretty when you drive by on Mtk Hwy?

I think the board has made it quite clear they don't object to him building it, but they're concerned about precedent and the intent of the law. And, not for nothin', but Rennert could build the thing and NO ONE would know, given the size of his compound. A little credit is due to him for actually going about it the right ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 20, 13 9:16 AM
2 members liked this comment
You are so right; Montauk Highway along the reservation is disgraceful, ugly and cheap. There should be zoning laws there as well. Are teepees and cigarettes the only way people there can make a living?

By AFB (31), NYC/SH on Jun 21, 13 3:58 PM
Comparing a 200 million dollar mansion to a slum is a real stretch. Who said we don't want zoning? Would you even know if Rennart did an addition on his 65 acres? People should mind their business and not infringe on peoples property rights. By the way why don't you worry about Havanna Bays it is really turning into a slum mostly from people like you that say no to new projects
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 20, 13 9:29 AM
2 members liked this comment
The general consensus of the first few comments was that he should be able to do whatever he wants, which implies zoning laws shouldn't exist. I even pointed out he could do the work on his propety without anyone knowing...

And I was unaware that there was a large cuban contingency in good ol' HB!
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 20, 13 9:36 AM
No there is a large contingency of busy bodies, and Hispanics. He isn't doing whatever he wants he is adding to a beautiful oceanfront mansion. Sorry your envious and don't have one but thats life.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 20, 13 12:26 PM
Having a discussion with you is always so futile... When did I ever say he shouldn't be allowed to do it and shouldn't be able to add to his "beautiful oceanfront mansion"? Envious I'm not - that guy got his money the dirty way and apparently built such a palace so he wouldn't "die alone".

What exactly were you Chief of again...?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 20, 13 12:34 PM
1 member liked this comment
Doe Run.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 20, 13 5:50 PM
Why no? You might as well ask why have zoning restrictions! You teaparty nuts always have the same answer to every question, let everyone do whatever they want, until, of course, the conversation is about social issues, then you want to tell everyone what to do.

Why is that, do you hope you too will one day be Mr. Rennert? You won't. But keep dreaming, Chiefie
By SidViscuous (26), on Jun 20, 13 9:38 AM
2 members liked this comment
His property, his money... Next they will control it all...
By SHTownHB (75), Hampton Bays on Jun 20, 13 10:39 AM
OUR zoning laws
By SidViscuous (26), on Jun 20, 13 1:39 PM
Sign sign everywhere a sign.... Get a job
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Jun 20, 13 6:17 PM
he'll regret he didn't just build it without telling them....no one would know, the place is massive.
By a1aa1a (1), Wainscott on Jun 20, 13 10:47 AM
Perhaps he has already impugned the rules and restrictions sufficiently by building a resort under the guise of a "residence"?

By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 20, 13 5:41 PM
Good for you Ira don't apologize to bottom feeders for making something of your life. I salute your success sir.
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Jun 20, 13 6:16 PM
We should be measured by the 0's in our bank accounts and not the scars we leave on the earth, no?

"Rennert was awarded the The Awful Truth Man of Year Award in 1999 by filmmaker Michael Moore, based on a 1996 EPA Report which lists Magnesium Corporation of America as the top single polluting industrial facility in the United States and a second EPA report from the same year which lists Renco Group as the top most polluting parent company (based on total on-site and off-site releases). ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 20, 13 9:14 PM
In your world we should all live off the land, and ride horseback. You are the big mouth voice of Hampton Bays demanding moratoriums, and denying development. People like you have destroyed Hampton Bays by their lack of knowledge of development. Hampton Bays has the best waterfront in the Hamptons, but infortunately it is hindered by people like you. The place is turning into a slum and all you can worry about is a pool house addition in a town 20 miles from you. You definately win the busy body ...more
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 21, 13 7:43 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Jun 21, 13 9:17 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 21, 13 9:22 AM
Editors - that was fast! I'm impressed... thought you guys would be @ the beach on a day like today.

Chief - I never asked for a moratorium nor cheered one. I'm not part of the HB civic group nor would I ever want to be - they are the "busy bodys" you speak of. I'm all for as-of-right development and (again) have nothing against what Mr. Rennert is proposing. My only point is that there's a reason the BZA hasn't rubber stamped this application because zoning laws are important (again ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 21, 13 9:26 AM
Well chief I'll tell you what, you deserve the human body ignorance award. One of the greatest dis-services we have done to our species is to leave mother nature behind. One of the worst things we've done for our lower bodies is wearing cushioned, thick soled footwear. One of the worst things we've done our bodies is a modern diet.

A wise man once upon that if you'd like to live a long healthy life, you should eat like a pauper. A healthy diet rich in protein and raw foods eliminates ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 21, 13 10:53 AM
2 members liked this comment
Yeah and you win the idiotic hypocrite award. Call me when you tear down your house, rip out your septic, search for berries in the woods, and ride a donkey to work. Otherwise stop preaching to us about the environment, because you are as much of a polluter as any one else on the East End. I don't know who the hell Ira Rennart is but if he wants a Pilates room who the heck cares. MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 21, 13 11:29 AM
1 member liked this comment
Ira Rennert's companies have been directly tied to lead poisining and the sickening (and deaths) of thousands of children in Peru, all so he can add apilates room to his estate.

Ever hear the theory about a butterfly flapping its wings?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 21, 13 11:34 AM
1 member liked this comment
So in you're world (!) when I hit the lottery I can buy the property next to you and run an education camp for disenfranchised Somali's? You know, teach them how to vote, apply for welfare, things of that nature, Chief?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jun 21, 13 12:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
No actually I'm not as much of the polluter is anyone on the east end. The ignition system in my car has been modified for efficiency, and I operate it at most 10 miles a day. The cesspool is treated with enzymes, we don't use chemical detergents with perfumes or dyes, and we not only compost but also recycle bottles and cans.

In fact we'll be going off the grid in the not too distant future, once finances improve. Take your anger and your enmity somewhere else
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 21, 13 12:36 PM
Z - to be fair it's pretty hard to compare to the wanton disregard for the environment that some of our neighbors have. Like Mickey Drexler (J. Crew CEO), who in 2011 used an eye-popping 18.4 MILLION gallons of water in one year?

Imagine if we ALL used 18 million gallons of water/year? But hey, if you got the $$ to pay for it, we should applaud you right?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 21, 13 12:46 PM
Indeed when wealth comes before wisdom, it is a very volatile combination.

My sentiment would be plant vegetables not lawns...
Jun 22, 13 1:26 PM appended by Mr. Z
Oh, and that was the polite way of saying: "That much water? M**********r, you BETTER be growin' food."
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 21, 13 1:26 PM
Sure because your comparision of housing Somalis to a pilates room on a 62 acre estate is similar. You are a fool.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 22, 13 8:02 AM
So your (!) saying there should be some limits? And I guess your (!) the guy to set them, correct? We'll just have you make up the rules as we go along.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jun 22, 13 1:46 PM
Your still using fossil fuels , and have a septic system. Your still using electricity to run your computer , and refridgerator. Big deal you cut down on energy so has most people. Send us a post card when you are in Tibet living on a farm operating a bull and plow to turn the soil. The only thing you naturally have is the manure you post on this site.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 23, 13 10:55 AM
Yo, Chief!!
Can it made any more obvious to you that you cant understand the difference twix "your" and "you're"? And what do you know of someone's energy when they are "off the grid"?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jun 23, 13 12:15 PM
Oh no when Blank loses an argument he goes to correcting grammar. Sorry I made a mistake. Blank inserts himself under any post I make like a real creep. No Blank you won't get me to quit writing anything no matter how much you bully me.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 23, 13 5:26 PM
Confucius say:

Chief changes tune like wind chimes.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 23, 13 5:29 PM
1 member liked this comment
Don't want to get you to quit, you're way too entertaining. It's not a mistake when you constantly use your for you're and other such ways of yours. It just shows that you're slow.
Jun 23, 13 7:06 PM appended by But I'm a blank!
BTW, when do you think I ever lost a debate with you?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jun 23, 13 7:06 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 24, 13 5:46 AM
Pushed the envelope, did ya Chief?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jun 25, 13 3:15 PM
2 members liked this comment
Just for the record, 110,000 square feet of buildings on 63 acres is not a "private residence". That fact isn't still up for discussion is it?
By KevinLuss (356), Detroit, Michigan on Jun 21, 13 6:45 AM
Why not? Go take a look at the old estates along the Hudson River - they're on par (though slightly less grand if only due to the limitations of engineering 100+ years ago) with Rennerts and were the private residences of industry tycoons and presidents (Roosevelt)
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 21, 13 9:25 AM
1 member liked this comment
Zoning laws apply to all of us, whether we live in a 1,000 square foot shack or a 110,000 square foot testament-to-arrogance-and-greed. It is not a question of whether this dude owns the land or not, nor is it a question of the scale of his pilates studio. The question before the zoning board is this: Is there not sufficient room in his current 110,000 square feet to ad a 700 square foot pilates room? He no doubt has closets that are larger than that, let him put it there otherwise, let him prove ...more
By SidViscuous (26), on Jun 21, 13 10:23 AM
My point regarding him asking for permission (and credit being due) is that many many homeowners (well-known folk) in the hamptons did NOT ask permission for what they have done (only forgiveness after). Matt Lauer, Kelly Ripa, Joe Farrel etc. have all done what they wanted to because they're rich and powerfull. It's nice to see that someone with money still follows the rules (If only he had been so concious with respect to world-wide environmental regulations).
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 21, 13 11:36 AM
Mr Z : I fish for a living- does that count as pursuing food? Or do I have to buy a live chicken and chase it around the yard before I fry it in lard? I don't use perfume, and I also modified my ignition to save gas- I turn it all the way to the left. I don't want to mention what goes into my septic system. Can I join your you're you all commune? Can I please??!!

PS Has anyone seen High Hat? I miss the "word of the day"
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Jun 24, 13 6:41 AM
2 members liked this comment
Only liking this for the last line... that's quite amusing
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 24, 13 12:24 PM
Sure, if I had one, as soon as you figure out that only trace amounts of carbon monoxide are produced by diesel combustion.

We don't take in the nescient...
Jun 24, 13 3:32 PM appended by Mr. Z
OBD II, capacitor drive sparkplugs, and ECU flashed. Any other useless spouting?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 24, 13 3:32 PM
Is that like a flux capacitor professor?
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 25, 13 9:28 PM

Only 1 megawatt.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 25, 13 10:04 PM