Board member accuses former town lawyer of bullying

EH ARB: Heated Debate Over Gate




The meetings of the East Hampton Town Architectural Review Board rarely get local media coverage. The aesthetic differences between a five-foot-tall gate and one six feet tall is hardly the stuff that generates conflict. But, on July 11, that exact topic brought a return to Town Hall of former Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski and a complaint from a board member who said she felt she was being “bullied” into approving the gate.

Sendlenski was there representing Stephen Preuss, who owns property at 36 Bonac Wood Lane. Preuss wanted to be able to put a six-foot tall gate at the entrance to the driveway. “Why does he need the gate?” board member Peter Gumple asked. Sendlenski said it was to secure Preuss’s many cars.

Sendlenski said that his client wanted to build a four-foot tall solid cedar gate topped with two more feet of balusters.

“He is entitled to a four-foot gate,” board member Betsy Petroski said. Sendlenski responded, “No. He is entitled to make an application to this board for a gate up to six feet.” Petroski then said at a previous meeting, after a discussion, the board agreed “a four-foot gate would be sufficient.”

Petroski asked if there were other gates in the area. Board member Esperanza Leon answered that there are not.

“Do you have a problem to decide or is it just the height of it?” chairman Richard Myers asked Petroski.

“As I said, we are just seeing a tremendous amount of six-foot gates, and if we keep approving them, we are going to have six-foot gates in every driveway,” she said. Pointing to Preuss’s wall of fencing in his backyard, she added, “I don’t think it is appropriate for the area.”

“Basically, you are looking at a four-foot wall with two-foot fencing,” Myers replied.

Petroski responded, “Well, make a motion. I don’t want to be bullied into something. I feel that I am being bullied.”

Leon, the newest member of the board, stepped in, noting that the gate is two feet wider than the 12-foot-wide driveway. She also pointed out that there is a line of trees that do not match up with the proposed gate. “Nor are they required to be,” Sendlenski said.

Member Dianne Benson joined Petroski and Leon to vote the application down.

“Okay, Michael, where would you like to go with this?” Myers asked. Sendlenski said he would call Preuss to see if he would be willing to scale down the gate to five feet, which Petroski had indicated she might support.

“Sure,” Myers said. “And I would also like to ask for a timeout too, please. The television turned off.” Sendlenski, who had advised the town boards on such matters for years, seemed stunned. “Okay. You do your thing,” Myers told him.

Myers then asked Petroski to come with him into the hall to talk. She refused. “I felt I was being bullied,” she said, adding, “by the applicant.”

Myers sat back at the table and asked Petroski to clarify what she was feeling.

“I felt that in my conversation with the representative of the application that my comments were being challenged, which were based on my position as a board member,” she said, “and I felt that I was being bullied.”

When Sendlenski returned, he said his client had agreed to the five-foot compromise and then asked Petroski if her comment about bullying was directed at him.

“Yes, it was,” Petroski answered. “I felt that what I expressed as a board member, that you were challenging my comments.”

“It’s my job as an advocate,” Sendlenski replied.

“I understand, but I just felt that you weren’t giving me an opportunity to be clear on what I was saying.”

The board voted 5-0 to approve the five-foot gate. Even though such a vote is not official until a town attorney writes it up and the board signs off on it, by July 21, four days before the board would have an opportunity to sign off on the approval, the five-foot-tall cedar gate was already in place at 36 Bonac Wood Lane.