A judge presents a novel challenge to the East Hampton Township Board of Appeals: Want to deny permits on the grounds of environmental damage? Showcase your work.

Judge James Quinn sided with two applicants in separate case against East Hampton Star Council report. While the town is appealing, the decisions could open the floodgates for further applications and lawsuits, not to mention changes to how the zoning board operates.

In the first ruling in March, the judge sided with the homeowner of 330 Gerard Drive, who was denied a special natural resource permit.

Dante Brittis’ family wanted to add 500 square feet to the second floor of their half-century home. But the chairman of the board said the modest renovation would change the character of the neighborhood.

The owner cut the expansion plan by 20 percent and offered to replace the septic tank with an environmentally friendly system, which was still unanimously rejected in September.

Two months after the first ruling, the judge sided with the homeowners of 275 Three Mile Harbor Road, who were denied a special natural resource permit to build the pier.

No pier has been built in the town for 35 years, but the judge said that was not sufficient reason to ban new ones. He ruled that the board’s denial needs to be backed by appropriate legislation.

In both rulings, the judges said the zoning board acted arbitrarily and there was no evidence the projects would harm the environment. The town’s view is that applicants should demonstrate that their projects will not harm the environment.

Approximately 75 percent of permit applications include a component that requires a special natural resources permit because the work is within 150 wetlands.

If the town loses its appeal of the judge’s ruling, it could have significant implications for how East Hampton’s permits are handled, as the burden of proving environmental damage would shift to the town. Its planning department, already short-staffed, may struggle to do so, especially if requests from homeowners looking to renovate increase.

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