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Cynthia Rowley’s plan to rebuild house on wetlands gets town OK

One of designer Cynthia Rowley's Montauk homes, seen

One of designer Cynthia Rowley's Montauk homes, seen on June 27, 2017, has gotten a go-ahead from East Hampton Town to be rebuilt. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Fashion designer Cynthia Rowley can move forward with a plan to demolish and rebuild one of her Montauk houses within 5 feet of wetlands, the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals recently ruled.

The board approved Rowley’s application to tear down the 988-square-foot residence on Seaside Avenue in the Ditch Plains neighborhood and replace it with a 1,375-square-foot house, noting in a written determination that “this property is among the most severely constrained by wetlands as any improved property reviewed by the Zoning Board over the past twenty years or more.”

The board granted the project a natural resources special permit, allowing a deck to be constructed within 5 feet of wetlands and a new sanitary system within 6 feet of wetlands, where respective setbacks of 100 feet and 150 feet are typically required.

Rowley can also clear the vegetation within 50 feet of the wetlands to make space for the house, but must place a scenic easement with vegetation on the eastern side of the property, the board ruled.

Brian Frank, the town’s chief environmental analyst, said the redevelopment of the property will minimize some of the impacts to the wetlands, which were likely filled in before the existing house was built. He cited plans to replace a failing septic system that is within the groundwater table, reduce the footprint of the house and install better flood controls.

“It’s a very difficult property,” Frank said. “It has some severe environmental constraints.”

Rowley, 58, purchased the home for $820,000 in 2011. The single-story dwelling on .92 acres was constructed in 1976 and was built within 15 feet of wetlands, which surround the property. Property records show she bought another house across the street, which also sits on .92 acres, in May 2016 for $3 million. Her attorney, Richard “Andy” Hammer, said he did not know his client’s plans for that house.

The designer is “pleased” she can move forward with demolishing the 988-square-foot house, which is “the size of a lot of garages in East Hampton,” said Hammer, of the Montauk-based firm Biondo & Hammer.

“Whenever you’re trying to renovate a house this vintage, it’s just cheaper, easier and more efficient to construct a new structure . . . because the old requirements don’t jibe well with what’s required today,” he said.

The new two-story home will be manufactured at another location, transported on a truck and assembled on the property, Hammer said.

Rowley still needs to obtain a town building permit and get final approval from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to proceed with construction. She has already obtained a freshwater wetlands permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Kevin McAllister, president of the Sag Harbor-based environmental group Defend H2O, said “the mistake was made when the original” house was built on wetlands, which filter water and absorb floodwater.

“In the big picture, we have and continue to degrade the integrity of wetlands by virtue of allowing further development,” McAllister said.

The old versus the new

Existing house

1 story

988 square feet

Slab foundation

Septic system in wetlands

Proposed house

2 stories

1,375 square feet

Pile foundation

Septic system 6 feet from wetlands

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