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Jul 21, 2015 2:22 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Builder Paints American Flag On His House To Exercise Property Rights

The American flag is painted on the house at 81 Wooley Street in Southampton Village last week. KATIE FRANKENBACH
Jul 22, 2015 9:30 AM

A flag flying in front of a house expresses patriotism. But painted 10 feet high, on both stories of the front of a house?

That’s exactly what Southampton Village resident Michael White did last week—and he meant it as an act of protest, a demonstration of his belief in a landowner’s right to do whatever he pleases with his property. And there may be nothing the village can do to stop him.

Mr. White, founder and president of Southampton-based Georgica Builders, painted the Stars and Stripes onto his home at 81 Wooley Street on Tuesday, July 14. Mr. White currently has a proposal before the Southampton Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review to construct a new house on the site after he tears the current one down, and he already has approval for the demolition.

But at an ARB meeting the night before, Mr. White’s application for the new house was scrutinized by both the board and residents who commented on it.

That drove him, he said, to paint the front of the brown house in gaudier colors: red, white and blue.

“I’m a builder, and it’s my own house, and I know what I’m doing, and I don’t need their feedback,” he said in an interview last week, referring mostly to the community members who attended the meeting. “I figured if they want something to complain about, I’ll give them something to complain about. They can’t make me take down the American flag.”

Members of the ARB had told Mr. White that he included too many different window styles in the plan for his new home, and that the house looked like four different structures in one. They also expressed concerns about the age of the existing home set to be demolished, as it is about 100 years old, thus making it historic, even though it is located outside the village’s historic district.

Both the board and residents also suggested that the proposed new house was set too close to the sidewalk, as most homes on Wooley Street are about 50 feet from the sidewalk. The proposed setback for the new house is about 25 feet.

Mr. White did not take the criticism lightly.

“This board doesn’t have the jurisdiction to tell me where to put my house,” he told the board. “If I did move it back, I wouldn’t have a backyard. My pool is 15 by 15. That’s my house. It’s not your house.”

ARB Chairman Curtis Highsmith agreed—to an extent. “That’s right, it’s not our house—but we have the responsibilities, aesthetically, to determine what we find fit for the community,” he told Mr. White. “We have a greater responsibility than just your home. It’s a five-person panel for that reason.

“This is the first time we’re seeing your application,” he added. “We’re not saying no.”

Mr. White also has been critical of the village recently for its efforts to change the zoning code. He has been before the Village Board several times to argue that local governments cannot tell people what they can do with their houses, specifically citing two proposed laws that would restrict the height of houses based on lot size, and that would regulate off-street parking.

The builder has also argued that the village should not be taking suggestions from the Southampton Association, a local civic group, which village officials had allowed to comment on the two laws when they were drafted. “These people, they have nothing better to do,” Mr. White said of the association. “They can’t mind their own business. I’m tired of it.”

While Mr. White may feel he took a patriotic stand for what he believes in, some believe that his actions were not tasteful.

Mackie Finnerty, who lives across from the star-spangled house, said she sees the flag every time she looks out her window now, and that it has become a public spectacle, with people driving down the street to take photos. Ms. Finnerty was one neighbor who spoke against Mr. White’s proposal at the ARB meeting. “We’re in a state of shock. To me, it seems like graffiti,” she said.

The Wooley Street resident added that she understands times are changing, and so are the styles of homes, but that Mr. White should respect the character of the neighborhood, or put his new house somewhere else. Property rights, she argued, are limited.

“I guess the flag is that same idea, that somehow that he thinks the Constitution gave him the right to have a house and do that to it,” she said. “It’s very disturbing.”

Village Mayor Mark Epley acknowledged that many builders probably disagree with the proposed zoning changes, but said that most have come forward with their concerns in a more acceptable way. He noted that Mr. White has previously been creative in expressing his dissatisfaction over village rulings, one time ripping up a concrete sidewalk in front of a house and replacing it with cobblestones.

“I think it hurts him on his current application, and I think it hurts him on future applications,” the mayor said. “I think his behaviors like that actually make the job in the Building Department more difficult, and it increases the number of complaints that come into village hall.”

Mr. Epley added that even though he thinks Mr. White’s stunt was “probably one of the most immature acts I’ve seen in the village, ever,” there is nothing in the village code prohibiting residents from painting their homes in such a way.

“What can you do?” he said. “He just created problems for himself.”

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Rich people problems...
By LI native (127), east moriches on Jul 21, 15 3:47 PM
July 14th was Bastile Day. He should have painted the French flag.
By Crabby (63), Southampton on Jul 21, 15 3:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
I understand his frustration.
By GraysonJordan (9), Durban, KwaZulu-Natal on Jul 21, 15 4:02 PM
Yes, luckily you are free in this country to make yourself look like a complete idiot and also uglify your house in the process. Well done.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Jul 21, 15 4:37 PM
Builder in the Village. If he plans to continue building homes in the Village, he just made himself a target. Thought he was frustrated before, wait until the next applications. It's unique but not a smart career move for future village business of Georgia Builders.
By CommunityMinded (20), Southampton on Jul 21, 15 4:52 PM
With respect to the last sentence of the article: The only one who has "created problems for himself" (and the village) is Mark Epley who basically insinuates that the village review boards will be taking punitive action against Mr. White for exercising his constitutional right to paint a flag on his house. Regardless of how puerile his act of defiance, it is illegal for the board to "punish" him by denying or "holding up" his application. In fact any leverage the village may have had to guide ...more
By GlassHouses (64), anywhere on Jul 21, 15 4:53 PM
Markie wasn't so concerned about his father in law building Bishops Pond which was 80 units on 7 acres. I guess that's a benefit of being mayor. Hypocrites
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 21, 15 5:46 PM
Mackie Finnerty, not graffiti , but pop art! Lighten up !Some people love pop art ! !
By bayview (160), Southampton on Jul 21, 15 6:11 PM
1 member liked this comment
Bishops Pond. Those units would be worth $400,000 a pop in Western Suffolk and they are built worse than most of crap built here in the 80s. I feel bad for people who have invested money there...
By Arnold Timer (327), Sag Harbor on Jul 21, 15 6:19 PM
Bishops Pond. Those units would be worth $400,000 a pop in Western Suffolk and they are built worse than most of crap built here in the 80s. I feel bad for people who have invested money there...
Jul 21, 15 6:19 PM appended by Arnold Timer
Sorry. Can't delete the duplicate.
By Arnold Timer (327), Sag Harbor on Jul 21, 15 6:19 PM
Good luck to you sir.well done!
By 27dan (2854), Shinnecock Hills on Jul 21, 15 8:31 PM
i like his actions and the story....until i found out he owns a big time building company

should have known he wasn't a guy for equality with the wooley st address

the people don't own or control anything
money makes money and the majority continue to suffer
By llimretaw (118), watermill on Jul 21, 15 9:41 PM
Mike's actually a pretty good guy. I think that he is just standing for the people who are given a very hard time about the aesthetics of their houses. Probably too much nitpicking going on. Somebody needs to draw attention to it.
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on Jul 21, 15 10:59 PM
Anything that sticks it back to the likes of Harold Fisher is a good thing
By 27dan (2854), Shinnecock Hills on Jul 22, 15 12:19 AM
The arrogance of the builders who will be gone after they strip their 30% profit from the area. They will do and say anything to preserve the profit, then laugh once they sell and leave. Rule changes are put in place exactly because of immature stunts such as this.
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Jul 22, 15 6:31 AM
I have been a resident of the East End my entire life and a builder in this area for almost 30 years. I am not a developer. Most of the homes I build or re-model are for customers who purchaser older, run-down homes in the area that either are to be substantially renovated or are in such condition that they must be demolished. I only build traditional homes in keeping with the aesthetics of Southampton. The homes I build beautify the area and increase property values. I recently purchased 81 ...more
By MichaelWhitegeorgica (3), southampton on Jul 22, 15 8:14 AM
Don't you like the way these people think we are all Farrel Builders. Ignorance and arrogance: I don't know and I don't care.
By Nukiepoo (123), Southampton on Jul 22, 15 10:23 AM
2 members liked this comment
I think Mark Epley is going to cost the village alot of money with his comments.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 22, 15 1:52 PM
1 member liked this comment
Mr. White paints a rosy picture of himself which is full of information that misinforms. If he doesn't want to call himself a "spec" builder then he is a
builder who works for "spec builders." He has a high estimation of his taste and
his rights. Some of us who aren't looking to turn over houses to make a living
but just want to live here in peace and quiet see him and the rest of the spec
builders as people assaulting our property rights and our enjoyment of our property.
By localcitizen (110), Southampton on Jul 22, 15 1:54 PM
2 members liked this comment
It's not as awful as some people make it out to be. He could have painted it purple, lime green or fluorescent orange.

It looks like art. Still...he was slightly premature in doing this. It was only his first go round with the ARB who did not say no by any means. They just made suggestions which would help move the priest along. Now he'll have some apologizing to do when he sees them for the next hearing.

Either way, big thumbs up to this guy.
By Harbor Master (114), Sag Harbor on Jul 22, 15 6:33 PM
Harbor Master you are absolutely correct that I only had one meeting with the village ARB. I was even told by the ARB not to worry it would be months before any changes were made by the village to zoning. Then yesterday the village trustees changed the code at 5pm. Previously they said they would wait for a report from Nelson And Pope their outside consultant. (Still no report) They said they would wait for feedback from their own planning commission. (Still no feedback) I asked the trustees what ...more
By MichaelWhitegeorgica (3), southampton on Jul 22, 15 10:36 PM
The ARB WAS out of the loop...
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Jul 23, 15 7:43 AM
I'm sure this fine fellow would have no objection to my moving in next door to him, painting a swastika on my house, putting 10 unlicensed cars up on blocks in my front yard and opening a bar and strip club in my house. I'm going to have 3 hour fireworks display every night (starting at midnight) and live concerts every weekend ...... because it's my property. If I want to do all of those things, why should the neighbors or the town have any right to tell me what to do? Everybody can do whatever ...more
By btdt (449), water mill on Jul 22, 15 7:06 PM
4 members liked this comment
You may be an American citizen, but one who is lacking in reading comprehension.

In his earlier post, White stated "It is my contention that no one should be able to interfere with one’s right to build on their own property provided that the landowner complies with zoning and other applicable laws."

Virtually everything you facetiously cite as your right is in violation of those laws and does not come close to representing the stance of the homeowner. Your post is a waste ...more
By VOS (1241), WHB on Jul 23, 15 1:52 AM
Your comments have no relevance what so ever!!!
He is not asking for anything illegal, only what the building code allows the ARB is only opinions. If he was asking for something other then what he is allowed that would be ARB. You need to understand how ridiculous the villages the arb can comment on your fence style on your property. The village should fly a swastika because as a home owner you have no rights. It's offensive that a neighbor can stand up at a meeting and say I don't like ...more
By Remsen (68), Southampton on Jul 23, 15 12:16 PM

people are brainwashed
By llimretaw (118), watermill on Jul 29, 15 5:22 PM
I drove by. It's cute!!!
By bird (829), Southampton on Jul 22, 15 8:04 PM
The average size of a new home built in 2013 hit a record average of over 2,600 square feet. That is 1,000 square feet more than the average thirty years ago.

How is that much square footage compliant with the aesthetics of such an old neighborhood?

What is the average size of a home on Elm Street?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 22, 15 8:19 PM
Hanging out with Evelyn Konrad agian I see
By joe hampton (3461), southampton on Jul 22, 15 9:56 PM
2 members liked this comment
Maybe you need to read the Sag Harbor news lately.

Typical uninformed, insult slinging point of view.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 25, 15 5:09 AM
Btdt do you really think a nazi flag , and the American flag mean the same thing? People want the right to build a house not the nonsense you print. GROW UP!
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 22, 15 8:26 PM
3 members liked this comment
this is america
his point is a citizen has just as much a right to put up a nazzi flag as they do the american flag

i think america sucks right now
i think its all about money
i think we don't need a standing army anymore as there will never be another hand to hand war

and i have every right to feel and say that way
By llimretaw (118), watermill on Jul 29, 15 5:24 PM
My favorite is one of the board members lives in the village and he has vinyl siding on his newer house the ARB passed. When you are within all town codes for building what right does someone have to tell you we like these windows better then those. It's highly offensive and illegal because once you bring a lawyer the ARB changes there tune been down that road before. The DA office needs to investigate how people with virtually no architectural experience are telling people how to design the house ...more
By Remsen (68), Southampton on Jul 23, 15 12:25 PM
1 member liked this comment