A new 1100-square-foot building on South Euclid Avenue in Montauk stands silent, a stop-work order from the Town of East Hampton taped to its front door. The building looks finished, with three potted plants in front. But looks, in this case, are deceptive. Mistakes made along the way during the site’s development have rendered it, for the time being, ineligible for a final certificate of occupancy.
The property is small, at 4100 square feet. It is surrounded by Pete’s Potting Shed to the east, and the old Neptune Motel, now used for worker housing, to the west. The building has an open commercial space on the first floor, and a two-bedroom apartment on the second.
The occupant-in-waiting of the ground floor of the building, which has two front doors that open into a common space, was supposed to be an art gallery run by Kathleen Semergieff. The building also has a second-floor apartment. Semergieff spoke to the East Hampton Town Planning Board on Wednesday, August 22, telling its members that the opening date for her gallery had been scheduled for July of this year. The owners received their building permits in August 2017. When they began excavating, however, they discovered that “we were dealing with a different reality than the site plan,” Semergieff said.
Many of the changes to the project happened, said Eric Schantz, the town planner working on the site plan, because the original survey lacked elevations. South Euclid Avenue, particularly on the north side where the structure is, has a fairly sharp upward slope.
That “different reality” that Semergieff described led the owners to diverge from the site plan that had been approved by the planning board in January 2017. Instead of using asphalt for the parking area in front of the building, they poured concrete. Instead of coloring the concrete sidewalk between the parking area and the structure pink, as is the norm in East Hampton, they used white concrete. The new sidewalk ends on its eastern side at a concrete wall the owners, a limited liability company called Home Team 668, installed.
And, most noteworthy, while the site plan that had been approved included a ramp for handicap access in front, the owners found that the pitch from the street to the building was too steep for the ramp. Instead, they built two sets of steps leading to the two front doors.
On August 8, Dariusz Winnicki, the attorney for Home Team 668, had proposed a solution to the missing handicap access entrance: the owners would install a ramp on the side of the building, leading to a back door. While the town’s planning department, as well as the board’s attorney, John Jilnicki, both conceded that they were not experts on the law regarding handicapped access, Jilnicki told the board that it was his belief that if the side ramp access point opened up into the same common space as the front doors, that ramp would probably pass legal muster.
The board voted 5-2 on August 8 in what Job Potter, planning board chairman, called a “straw vote” to approve the side ramp. That vote was contingent, however, on an approval from the East Hampton Town fire marshal’s office, as well as from the East Hampton Town disabilities advisory board. Neither approval was forthcoming.
Glen Hall, chair of the disabilities board, as well as founder and chair of the not-for-profit East End Disabilities Group, gave a sharp rebuke to the planning board for even taking that vote. “Not in the back of the bus,” he told the board August 22. “Not separate but equal,” he continued.
He told the board that the side ramp leading to a backdoor of the building was in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into federal law in 1990. He said that the handicap entrance must be at the main entrance in front. “Your job is to obey the law,” Hall told the board. “Get yourself a little more acquainted with the ADA,” he said. He told the board that, going forward, every site plan should be examined to ensure compliance with the ADA.
When fire marshal Dave Browne weighed in with a memo, he told the board that at least 60 percent of all entrances must be ADA compliant. Since there are three doors on the building, at least two of them have to provide handicap access.
Winnicki suggested to the board that the owners could make the back door the main entrance, since it was going to be ADA-compliant. “Are you going to remove the two front doors?” Potter asked.
“No, those will be the service entrances,” Winnicki answered.
Potter quickly shot that idea down. “No way. That is deceptive.”
Jilnicki addressed the wall built onto the public right of way, without approval, as well as the altered pitch on the public right of way. “You altered the grade from what we agreed to on the site plan. You changed it,” he said.
“We are going to do it in the highway right of way and we are not going to ask the highway superintendent?” Jilnicki asked rhetorically. “When you are going to change the grade of property you don’t own, you would think you would ask the owner. Or ask the owner’s representative. Not just do it and say, ‘We’ll ask for forgiveness.’”
After some back and forth, Potter said, “Please request approval for the wall that is already built.”
For Home Team 668, it is back to the drawing board.