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Green Building Litigation in East Hampton Over Design for 132 North Main Street

You may recall that, back in December, the East Hampton Town Architectural Review Board approved Bates Masi Architects’ controversial design for a modern two-story green office building at 132 North Main Street in East Hampton that would seek an unspecified level of LEED certification from USGBC. In a last ditch effort to stop the project from proceeding, a group of local residents have filed a lawsuit against the Board in Supreme Court for Suffolk County, alleging that it was negligent in approving the design and requesting that the court review and overturn the Board’s determination. The court will hear oral argument in the coming weeks and either affirm or overturn the decision, or send the matter back to the Board for further review.

The thrust of the plaintiffs’ argument is that the Board “consistently ignored the evidence completely” with respect to the historic characteristics of neighboring buildings when considering the 132 North Main Street application. Under the controlling East Hampton zoning ordinance, the Board is required to deny designs that are “excessively dissimilar” to the character of the town. Accordingly, the plaintiffs claim that the Board did not consider the architectural merit of the 250-year old Jonathan Barnes-Selah Lester House across the street when approving the project. For a number of legal reasons, it’s unlikely that the plaintiffs’ challenge will be successful and we do expect to see 132 North Main Street ultimately proceed as planned, which in our opinion will be very positive for green building on Long Island. It should be noted that Bates Masi’s design has won a number of awards from both USGBC and AIA.

Nevertheless, I think that the lawsuit tangentially suggests a few green building legal points that we’ve been discussing both here at gbNYC and over at GRELJ since the Shaw Development v. Southern Builders and AHRI et al. v. City of Albuquerque cases came to light during the second half of 2008. First, design, construction, and real estate industry stakeholders should not assume that, because they are involved in a green building project, broader concerns about environmental stewardship will trump a disgruntled stakeholder’s interest in commencing a lawsuit. As the plaintiffs’ attorney noted last fall prior to the Board rendering its decision, it was “not about whether you like the proposed building, it’s not about whether you favor change or about whether the building is green, it’s about standards and codes that [the planning board] has to apply.”

When green building was still in its infancy, stakeholders might have been less inclined to litigate out of a reluctance to attract negative attention to what most of us consider to be an extremely important and worthwhile effort for the industry generally. Second, for this reason, I think it emphasizes the point that in a more litigious environment, both thanks to the lousy economy and more widespread acceptance of green construction practices, stakeholders must be increasingly diligent in terms of vetting their contract language and building specifications when agreeing to the terms of a green construction contract, if you want more information about green construction visit working land maple.

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4 Responses to Green Building Litigation in East Hampton Over Design for 132 North Main Street

  1. Vik Duggal February 5, 2009 at 12:25 am #

    Hmm…will the future of these cases come from the people? I mean as opposed to money hungry lawyers looking for situations to make some cash?


  2. Mark Rabkin February 5, 2009 at 11:05 am #

    Vik –
    As a west coaster, you may not understand the mentality of East Hampton. Although I have only spent a limited time on the Long Island, I still get back there a few times a year. These “people” as you put it are similar to those that attend condo association meetings and debate for hours about the kind of flowers in the vase in common areas. In my opinion, they like their quaint little “village” and are going to fight tooth and nail to prevent development that falls outside of their ideal “box.” If there were a way to build a green building that looks like it was constructed in 1880, they would be all for it. It is about the looks, not the benefits.

  3. Mark Rabkin February 5, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

    And by the way, chances are most of the plaintiffs in this case are probably retired money hungry lawyers with nothing else to do.

  4. Barry Stephens February 13, 2009 at 2:20 pm #

    This story speaks to the balance that is often lacking in the development of green projects. The people who want to ram this project through are probably the same people who stop reasonable remodels or other projects in “Historic Districts”. You can’t have it both ways. It is evident that this building does not fit with the neighborhood. Some, or many, would call this building ugly. Just because it is “green”, (and LEED is starting to be questionable as energy efficient, as demonstrated by the excessive fenestration on this building) it should not get a pass on taste.

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