The East Hampton Town Board held a public hearing on Thursday about whether to allow a Wainscott farmer to erect a barn, even though the barn is already 80 percent completed.
The town building department issued William A. Babinski Jr., a seventh-generation farmer, a stop work order on May 17, the same day he was served with a lawsuit. Thomas and Shelly Gilbert, neighbors in the Georgica Association, claim in the lawsuit that the approvals he already received from the planning and architectural review boards were illegal, and told the town board during the hearing that the barn destroys their view.
Babinski's attorney, , asked the town board not to grant or deny the proposed construction permit that allows for the erection of an agricultural property pursuant to town code. He said his client didn't apply for it, doesn't want it and doesn't need it. Eagan said a decision will only trigger more litigation.
With planning and architectural review board approval given in April, Babinksi was issued a building permit for a 1,380-square-foot prefabricated metal Morton barn and two 8-by-20-foot, 8-foot-high storage containers on the east side of his Beach Lane property.
Senior building inspector Tom Preiato rescinded the building permit once he deemed Babinksi also needed the OK from the town board because the town, and the Peconic Land Trust, had purchased the residential development rights for the property for $7 million in 2006.
Eagan contended that Preiato had it right the first time — that the Babinskis had actually received town board approval to erect the barn back when a public hearing was held for the purchase of the development rights. The agreement actually carved out a 4-acre agricultural envelope on the property where the barn was being built.
"He's done everything and more than the law requires," Eagan said. He said a town board resolution adopted on April 15, 2005 includes the right to build a structure for agricultural use. "This board has already granted the authority for the permit," he said.
Deputy Supervisor Theresa Quigley said she was inclined to agree with Eagan. "I'd like the process to stop so Mr. Babinski can put up his barn," she said.
, an East Hampton-based attorney for the Gilberts, said the Babinskis hadn't been neighborly, leaving equipment and portable toilets in plain sight and setting up large containers, which were illegal prior to the planning board approval. "Just because they drive a tractor doesn't mean they don't have to follow the rules," he said.
Quigley stopped Bragman. "Are you asking me to judge their character?"
Bragman said, "I'm not asking you to judge their character, I'm describing their conduct."
Thomas Gilbert, who had donated $20,000 toward the purchase of the property, told the town board that the 18-foot 6-inch-tall barn "obliterated" his view. "We're not saying we're against the barn, just move it."
"I can't believe the Town of East Hampton is allowing this to happen to us," Shelly Gilbert said.
Thomas Gilbert also gave the town board an anonymous letter he received two days earlier that claimed Babinski was using his barn for non-agricultural uses, such as renting out space to a window washer and keeping hunting blinds for his friends at the . Babinksi denies those claims.
Balsam Farms co-owner Alex Balsam, who has been working with the town board to streamline the process for farmers to build on their land, said this "little known, rarely used" section of the code was being misused. He said farmers, like the Babinksis, were only selling the residential building rights, not the rights to farm the property or to put up farm structures. "This is nothing more than a tool of harassment against the farmer," he said.
The board will make a decision on what step to take next at a later date.