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Feb 13, 2013 9:14 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village Homeowner Asks For Relief From Pyramid Law

Feb 13, 2013 10:31 AM

On a quiet Southampton Village street, a dispute has been brewing over the past few months concerning a new house built in violation of the village’s Pyramid Law, which limits the height of structures and requires a residential roof to incline at a 45-degree angle from its front and side property lines, all to limit visual impact for neighbors.

The house at 80 Wooley Street exceeds the Pyramid Law limits, which are based on lot size and where the structure is located on the lot, by 2,650 cubic feet, and its roof inclines at a 35-degree angle. The violations are the result of an admitted oversight by the builder—but also by the Village Building Department, which issued a building permit allowing the home’s construction.

The builder and homeowner, Douglas Valk, a Southampton resident, said he is between a rock and a hard place and is seeking a variance from the Village Zoning Board of Appeals to legalize the construction, rather than being forced to largely demolish the house and start again. A decision is expected to be made at the board’s February 28 meeting.

Without a variance, Mr. Valk would be required to remove the second floor of the structure and rebuild it to adhere to the law, removing approximately 280 square feet from the house—at a cost of nearly $150,000, an amount he said would be devastating to his family.

Neighbors of the 2,880-square-foot home have challenged Mr. Valk since November, when his application had its first public hearing before the ZBA, saying such an error should be remedied, and that granting Mr. Valk a pass would set a dangerous precedent. The same neighbors have also said that the home does not fit in with the general aesthetics of the neighborhood, and the couple who live north of the property have complained that the house blocks sunlight to their home because Mr. Valk’s house is too tall.

The dispute is not the first involving the house. According to the Building Department, Mr. Valk received approval for his home from the village’s Board of Historic Preservation & Architectural Review last year after modifying his original plans and compromising with his neighbors to reach an acceptable site plan. But when the ARB signed off on the site plan, it did not check for adherence to the Pyramid Law—according to Jon Foster, the village building inspector, that is the responsibility of the architect and the Building Department.

According to both Mr. Valk and Mr. Foster, the fact that the house was in violation of the law wasn’t discovered until a building inspector came to check out the property after the second floor was completed in October. Mr. Valk had been granted a building permit in June 2012.

“It was an oversight,” Mr. Foster acknowledged on Tuesday. “One inspector did miss that detail. In the review, there was no detail of the Pyramid Law.”

No stop work order was issued because the structure had already been completed, according to Mr. Foster. Mr. Valk was allowed to finish weather-proofing the house shortly after the error was discovered and then halted further construction.

Mr. Foster said he regrets the mistake, but noted that the Building Department deals with a flood of information and tons of requests on a daily basis, and that while there are checks and balances in place, the department’s attention doesn’t always balance out correctly. “We apologized and told [Mr. Valk] he is going to have to go to the ZBA,” he said. “Mr. Valk has been more than up front with me on this.”

According to ZBA Chairman Kevin Guidera, the application is a “rather unusual” one, and the board is not yet leaning one way or the other. “You’ve got two sides to the story,” he said. “[Mr. Valk] did get a permit—but he’s a builder and should know the law.”

Mr. Valk said on Tuesday that the code violation was “an honest oversight. All the procedures were followed. I was in shock that we had the permit and it was not ironclad. We paid our fee and got the permit for what we thought was approved.”

Because of the error, Mr. Valk needs a variance to keep his home as is. But homeowners on Wooley Street and nearby streets say the house is too big and should be demolished to bring it into compliance with the law.

“Wooley Street has been an idyllic, ideal village street and has charming architecture that makes it unique,” said Walter Skretch, who lives next door. “The fact that this creature is suddenly stuck in the middle of it … it’s just too big for its britches.”

Mr. Skretch said he and his partner, Marianne Finnerty, are frustrated that the new house is blocking the sunlight at certain times of the day. Before the house was built, the parcel at 80 Wooley Street had a small house on the rear of the property. The “severe” roof line now casts a shadow on their property, he said.

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The laws are on the books for a reason. There are no "mistakes". You violate the code, you fix it. Period
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Feb 15, 13 9:44 AM
3 members liked this comment
Really...Break the law and then ask for relief from it? The owner is a builder, he should know better. The building inspector who approved the permit. he should be demoted.
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Feb 15, 13 9:48 AM
2 members liked this comment
people in the village complain to much - when i drove by the house today the sun was still balzing down on the negibors house -
By Kyle Timmons (5), Southampton on Feb 15, 13 11:34 AM
3 members liked this comment
The village approved it though. Even if he should have k own better, or if it was a mistake, the village approved it up u til the point that when they realized THEIR mistake, they expect him to have to pay? That's kind of crappy.
By bubby (236), southampton on Feb 15, 13 12:40 PM
1 member liked this comment
Respectfully disagree Kyle, I don't think this is about complaining. I'm pretty convinced one of the many reasons the Hamptons is desirable is because we've set some solid zoning laws in place. Besides that, I think it's pretty suspicious that a builder forgot about the pyramid law when building his own house. Sounds like, let me see what will slip through the cracks.
By RealLocal (76), Bridgehampton on Feb 15, 13 12:40 PM
2 members liked this comment
If someone built that house next to mine I'd be pretty pee'd. And anyone who says they wouldn't care isn't being honest.
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Feb 15, 13 1:17 PM
2 members liked this comment
This is a difficult situation but the owner is ultimately responsible to obey all the existing zoning laws. As a builder, he must have know better. And, frankly, the naked eye can easily detect that there is something amiss. I am dismayed that the building department did not handle this more carefully. Since the owner is a builder, I wonder what provoked such carelessness. If the ZBA allows this, then a truly dangerous precedent will be set. The second story of this house has to be
removed ...more
By localcitizen (110), Southampton on Feb 15, 13 2:52 PM
1 member liked this comment
I saw an article on the blog Southampton Village Review (Nov. 2012) with a picture of the approved front drawing for 80 Wooley St. compared to the actual photos. It seems, that in addition to violating the Pyramid Law, the builder did not even follow the plans that were approved!!! Whose fault is that? How can this be permissable??!!
By evergreen (19), Southampton on Feb 15, 13 3:13 PM
2 members liked this comment
Its the same old story, easier to ask forgiveness than for permission. And the property owner is ultimately responsible for compliance with the law; the building dept's oversight doesn't legally negate anything. But if the Village's ZBA is anything like EH Towns, it'll be a stern finger-waggin "now don't you do that again".
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Feb 15, 13 4:35 PM
Forget about the zoning violations for a sec...can we focus on how ugly the house is?! Poorly proportioned, boring, lacking in historical detail, boxy, uninspired, the windows look like crap. It looks like a modular home. Big time Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Oh and don't forget the fact that when a builder builds his "own home", it generally proves to be speculative.
By Agawam Yacht Club (69), Southampton on Feb 15, 13 4:38 PM
1 member liked this comment
I agree. Interestingly (but not surprising?) the house at 80 Wooley St. is currently listed FOR SALE at the (Prudential) Douglas Elliman website plus others for: $2,750,000 !!! Makes you wonder, huh?
By evergreen (19), Southampton on Feb 15, 13 4:54 PM
this deal is like the cruise ship from hell in the Gulf. Doesn't pass the smell test. Clearly tyhe building department stamp on all.plans states that that department is not responsible for errors. Builder stated that he "just weatherproofed the house and stopped" after the strapping inspection uncovered the error. "Weatherproofing included windows and a cedar shingle roof. 15 pound felt would have done the same until this was all sorted out. Bought for 800 on the market for 2.750. He can easily ...more
By lazymedic (100), southampton on Feb 15, 13 5:40 PM
1 member liked this comment
It is sad to see that once again the anonymous bloggers are quick to pass judgement without having any idea of all the facts and what the property owners have been through since the moment the original application was presented to ARB. Perhaps you all should review the 4 ARB, 2 ZBA hearing transcripts and the Village police call logs, and then let us know what you think. No summonses issued, no stop work order - that should make you wonder. It's all because these not very neighborly neighbors ...more
By Theresa Kiernan (26), Southampton on Feb 15, 13 5:49 PM
2 members liked this comment
just curious; village code states that whenever there is a violation of the building code(s) a work stop order shall be issued. look it up. And according to a member of the ARB, they have nothing to do with passing on the pyramid regulation. Look it up.
By lazymedic (100), southampton on Feb 15, 13 8:23 PM
No stop work order issued - look it up at the Bldg dept. And I didn't say that ARB addresses the pyramid code so I do not need to look it up. But thank you for the suggestion.
By Theresa Kiernan (26), Southampton on Feb 15, 13 9:23 PM
2 members liked this comment
Hearing "transcripts" from the ARB & ZBA?? Where are these available?
By ocean27 (21), Southampton on Feb 15, 13 10:13 PM
Sorry I should have used "recordings" in place of transcripts. They are available at Village Hall.
By Theresa Kiernan (26), Southampton on Feb 16, 13 8:23 AM
Who needs to get all of the "facts" before they pass judgment?
By ocean27 (21), Southampton on Feb 16, 13 10:41 AM
Apparently, the phrase "rural character" escapes the grasp ot mental midgets.
Feb 16, 13 2:27 AM appended by Mr. Z
"of". Pardon my opposable thumbs...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Feb 16, 13 2:27 AM
In addition to the Village Code, SV has a Master Plan--which says that new houses should be constructed in the size and scale of the neighborhood!!! Glad to see some people have the forewithall to speak up--isn't "free speech" guaranteed by our Constitution?
By evergreen (19), Southampton on Feb 16, 13 8:54 AM
1 member liked this comment
This house does not appear to be significantly different in size, scale or proximity to the fence line than the house next door. Are there better pictures somewhere?
By VOS (1241), WHB on Feb 16, 13 11:33 PM
Another wrong doesn't make it right!!! If the ZBA gives a variance they will open the floodgates for more people trying to get more and MORE! It's not about who is nice and who isn't. Who was the architect anyways? That person, along with the builder,of course, should have also known what was permitted under the Code (law). Just saying....
By Chester (4), Southampton on Feb 17, 13 9:17 AM
A waste of good building materials. Start over, do it right.
By ride the truth wave (125), southampton on Feb 17, 13 5:44 PM
1 member liked this comment
Speaking of ignorance--the "Pyramid Law" has been on the books for almost 10 years!! Why didn't the builder and architect just follow it to start with? It's like getting a ticket for going over the speed limit and then telling the judge that you shouldn't have gotten one because it "wasn't that much".
Pyramid Law 116-12-E-1 [Added 9-23-2003 by L.L. No. 7-2003]
(1) In the R-7.5, R-12.5 and R-20 Residence Districts, all buildings and structures (except chimneys, flagpoles, church spires and ...more
By Chester (4), Southampton on Feb 18, 13 10:22 AM
ChestPuffer, You still haven't answered the question: Why didn't the builder and architect just follow the Pyramid Law to start with?
By evergreen (19), Southampton on Feb 18, 13 1:41 PM
The article says that 280 square feet (in floor area presumably) would have to be removed from the house's second floor to comply. This appears to be the main quantitative detail in the article.

How does the house as-built violate the pyramid law? The ridge is 3' lower (32') than the max. ht. allowed (35'), and the roof angle is 35 degrees (Pyramid top line is 45 degrees?), so apparently the outer edges of the roof penetrate the forbidden space? If the roof had changed pitch to a steeper ...more
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Feb 18, 13 3:17 PM
The basic facts might help promote a logical adult discussion IMO.

Perhaps that may not be possible here?

Yes, your general points are well taken, but it is only after having the facts at hand that a productive discussion can be had.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Feb 18, 13 5:09 PM
I can't believe how many replys this article has gotten. Ten years ago Wooley st was falling apart, and now it is being totaly rebuilt, and looks great. As far as the rural character some are speaking of that would be impossible in the Elm St area.
Reason being is much of the area requires less than a quarter acre to construct a home. This area was divided up in the 1920's so I don't understand how the master plan could ever call this area rural.
The last thing is with all the nonsense ...more
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Feb 18, 13 5:12 PM
2 members liked this comment
Inches matter in a country which subscribes to The Rule of Law.

The devil is in the details, first, then meaningful adult discussions can be had IMO.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Feb 18, 13 5:44 PM
The law is the law PERIOD
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Feb 18, 13 10:09 PM
Let's face it; people violate the building laws and codes all the time, then when caught claim a hardship having to correct the violations. It's time for us to wake up and enforce the codes as written.
By Captjc (1), Remsenburg on Feb 20, 13 6:59 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Captjc (1), Remsenburg on Feb 20, 13 6:59 AM
agreed; fix the house to conform with the current law. the village is beginning to look like Nassau County / Patchogue and that's not a good thing.
By AFB (31), NYC/SH on Feb 21, 13 10:30 AM