Tired of seeing small homes razed and replaced by what she calls "McMansions," a Southampton village resident is suing to have the supersized homes knocked down.
The village has "steamrolled over objections to massive new houses," Evelyn Konrad charges in her federal lawsuit against village Mayor Mark Epley and other current and former officials. The lawsuit also names the owners of three larger, newer homes near her modest 1964 Colonial.
The 54-page suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, has been greeted with exasperation by village officials, who call it meritless and say they will need to spend public money to defend themselves. Konrad's previous, unsuccessful battles in state court have cost taxpayers $85,000, Epley said.
"She's a litigious-minded individual, even before she became a lawyer," he said of Konrad, 83, who earned her law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at age 76 and is representing herself.
But some real estate insiders say Konrad is not alone in her frustration. Several Long Island towns have tightened zoning codes in response to complaints about homes built during the "golden age of McMansions," from about 2000 until the recession, said Richard Guardino, dean of the Wilbur F. Breslin Center for Real Estate Studies at Hofstra University.
"It's the scale of the house that's important," said Paul Brennan of Prudential Douglas Elliman in Bridgehampton. Villages such as Southampton, he said, "have traditionally been quaint and full of character, and the more that we can keep them that way, the better off we are."
Even so, Brennan said, the Rosko Place subdivision where Konrad lives, a collection of 67 half-acre lots featuring mostly small ranches and Colonials built in the 1960s, does not have the same charm as the village's 1700s and 1800s structures.
The big new homes "are not necessarily ugly, they're just very, very different from what's there," said Sally Spanburgh, a local preservationist and friend of Konrad's.
The new homes are driving up neighbors' assessed property values and therefore their taxes, even as the older homes come to be seen as "worthless," said Elaine Fox, an internist who lives in the subdivision.
In her lawsuit, Konrad argues that the village's 2005 zoning ordinance, which allows builders to construct larger homes, should never have been passed, since two of the trustees who voted for it work in the real estate industry and therefore had "irreconcilable conflicts of interest."
Richard Zimmerman, a real estate attorney in Mineola, said local officials who work in the real estate industry may be permitted to vote on zoning matters, as long as they do not have a direct interest in a particular project seeking approval.
The homeowners named in the lawsuit did not respond to calls for comment. Paul Robinson, a former trustee, could not be reached. Assistant village attorney Elbert Robinson Jr., no relation, declined to comment except to say that Konrad raised similar issues in her previous lawsuits.
Still, the Vienna-born grandmother with the regal bearing is undeterred.
"The speculative builders didn't care what happened to the neighborhood, they just took the money and ran," said Konrad, who estimates she has spent more than $60,000 fighting the supersized homes. "I'm hoping we can put a stop to it."