In July of 2016, Lisa and Robert Gerbino (hereinafter “Gerbinos”) made an application to the Town of East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) for setback relief to allow an existing patio that was built without a permit to remain 10.2 feet from the southern property line where 20 feet is required at their property located at 3 Old Station Place, Amagansett. The Gerbinos purchased their property with the subject patio which is located next to their legally constructed pool. They discovered the patio was built without a permit and in violation of setbacks when they sought a certificate of occupancy for a legally constructed pool house.

At the ZBA hearing held on February 28, 2017, the applicant submitted that (i) the patio was built by the prior owner and the Gerbinos believed it was constructed legally along the southern side of the pool, (ii) the patio is entirely screened by large evergreen trees along the southern side of the property and (iii) there would be no adverse impact on the neighbors or community. The applicant further submitted a letter from the neighboring property to the east, 52 Atlantic Avenue, in support of the application.

A representative for the vacant property owner at 5 Old Station Place, which shares the lot line from which the variance is requested, testified in opposition to the application. Citing Town Code §255-11-89, which requires accessory structure setbacks for pool patios to be doubled, the opposition asserted that the purpose of the law is to protect property owners’ use and enjoyment of their back yards since pools are active recreational structures. The doubled setback requirement creates adequate buffer and transitional yards for pools. Moreover, the representative in opposition stressed that the construction on the lot was maxed out by constructing an approximate 6,000 square foot house (she included the finished basement in her calculation) on a lot shy of ½ acre with the pool placed at a maximum distance from the house in an effort to extend the back yard, negatively impacting her client’s design flexibility with respect to his vacant parcel. Finally, she submitted that the neighbor’s letter in support was submitted from the prior owner of the subject property that constructed the pool and pool patio at issue and was not impacted by the requested variance.

The Zoning Board of Appeals denied the variance request by determination dated May of 2017, stating that, “granting the requested variance will create a detriment to nearby properties. The reason setbacks are doubled for pool patios are to mitigate the noise impact to neighbors caused by the use of the pool and patio. Applicant is requesting a 51% variance along the entire length of the patio. Moreover, the applicants have not presented the Board with any unique circumstances explaining why they cannot comply with the Town Code. There is area along the north side of the pool that can accommodate the same amount of pool patio without requiring a variance from the Board. The Board notes that the neighbor most affected by the patio spoke out against granting the variance.”

The Gerbinos appealed, and the Supreme Court, Suffolk County in Gerbino, et al., v. Whelan, Supreme Court, Suffolk County, Index No. 2987-2017, overturned the ZBA determination and granted the Article 78 Petition. The Court held that the decision of the ZBA was not supported by a rational basis and as such, was arbitrary and capricious. The Court stated, “except for an unsupported objection by one adjoining property owner, there was no evidence proffered that the requested variance would have an undesirable effect on the character of the neighborhood … [f]urthermore, a patio 10.2 feet from the southern border of the property as opposed to the 20 feet required, clearly does not impact the adjoining property owners or neighbors.” The Town appealed.

By decision dated August 19, 2020, the Appellate Division, Second Department overturned the Supreme Court decision and upheld the ZBA’s denial of setback relief. Noting the broad discretion afforded to local zoning boards in considering applications for variances, the Court found that, the Supreme Court should have denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding as the Zoning Board’s determination had a “rational basis in the record.” The Court stated that “the record supports the Zoning Board’s determination that the variance is substantial, that granting the variance would have a detrimental impact upon neighboring properties, that feasible alternative locations exist to situate a pool patio on the property, and that any hardship was self-created (see Matter of Kramer v Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Town of Southampton, 131 AD3d at 1172; Matter of Sacher v Village of Old Brookville, 124 AD3d 902, 904). Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding on the merits.”

As a result, the Gerbinos are faced with having to either (i) remove the existing noncompliant patio, (ii) relocate the pool patio to a conforming location, or (iii) go back to the ZBA with a proposed patio in a new location should that new location require zoning relief.