Analysis Prepared for Southampton Association: Regulations on House Size and Mass in Southampton Village

Given the concern we have regarding density, McMansions on small lots and over-development, the Association recently commissioned a study of zoning codes on the East End (see below).  In the report, Lisa Liquori (a former Planning Consultant to the Town of East Hampton) clearly lays out how Southampton Village’s zoning code is significantly more generous in each of the 5 main zoning categories than our neighboring towns and Villages.  The Association has presented this study to the Village Trustees and we are pressing for immediate change.  Funds raised by the Association will help us to continue this type of important work.

Village of Southampton Regulations Governing House Size and Mass

Comparative Analysis to South Fork Communities

An Analysis Prepared for the Southampton Association

by Fine Arts & Sciences, LLC

Four hundred years of history have helped shape the Village of Southampton into the premier resort community that it is today. The charm and small-town feel of the residential neighborhoods have contributed to the appeal. But the Village is threatened by the very characteristics making it desirable. The desirability combined with residential real estate prices ranked among the nation’s highest have led to changes altering the appearance and appeal of the Village of Southampton as a pleasant place to live. New development and residential tear-downs are increasingly being replaced by much larger, oversized homes. The adverse impacts resulting from developing these oversized homes is particularly intense on smaller lots which afford little room for buffers. These excessively large homes are out of character with the long established neighborhoods, overcrowd their properties and have diminished the privacy previously afforded to adjacent homes. In addition to the large mass of the residences, small lot development is further intensified by the increased need for off-street parking. Due to the mass of the homes on small lots, parking requirements are met by stacking cars front to back in driveways.  While this parking configuration meets the technical requirements of the code, it is impractical on a regular basis. Despite legislation prohibiting it, on-street parking has been observed to accommodate the needs of these oversized homes.

Many of these development pressures are not unique to the Village of Southampton as the ever-increasing popularity of “The Hamptons” has created similar influences over the entire South Fork. In an effort to gain an understanding of how other communities are coping with the forces contributing to residential over-development, a comparison has been made between of the residential zoning regulations of the Southampton Village Code §116 to and the regulations of the 5 other South Fork municipalities including the: Southampton Code §330, Village of East Hampton §278, Town of East Hampton § 255, Village of Sag Harbor §330, and Village of Sagaponack §245.

Five parameters are used to regulate size and mass of residential development in the Village of Southampton:

  1. Height- including base height, number of stories, maximum height, relative height (pyramid restrictions)
  2. Lot coverage
  3. Gross floor area
  4. Setbacks
  5. Parking

The South Fork communities do not regulate these parameters in the exact same fashion. For example, lot coverage restrictions are specified as a percentage of lot area in the Village of Southampton whereas the maximum lot coverage varies by zoning district in the Town of Southampton. Definitions for terms, such as lot coverage, vary by municipality, and some variations make comparisons to the Village of Southampton’s regulations futile. There are no zones equivalent to the Village of Southampton’s R-12.5 and the R-7.5 in the Village of Sag Harbor, the Town of East Hampton or the Village of Sagaponack. The Village of Sag Harbor is more densely developed than the other municipalities and has only one residential zoning district, the R-20 zone. Some municipalities, such as the Village of Sag Harbor do not regulate gross floor area or other individual features. To the extent possible, residential zoning regulations of the South Fork municipalities have been converted to a form comparable to the Village of Southampton’s regulations. Variations in term definitions affecting residential development are explained in the narrative and in footnotes to the comparative charts.   Except for the parking regulations, the municipal codes were translated into chart form accompanying this narrative

1.      Height Regulations

Residential building heights are regulated by and must meet the most stringent of the restrictions as measured by base height, number of stories, and building height in all 6 South Fork communities. Pyramid regulations or relative height restrictions also govern height in all municipalities except in Village of East Hampton.  A higher maximum height is afforded for pitched roof compared to flat roof residences in the Village of Southampton, the Village of East Hampton and the Town of East Hampton.

Base Height

Residential building height is generally defined as the vertical distance measured from the natural grade to the highest point of the highest finished roof. In the case of a property of varying topography, some average of the natural grade is applied. In all the South Fork municipalities except in the Village of Southampton, natural grade is the surface elevation of land before any alteration or augmentation is made to the land. In the Village of Southampton, height is “measured from the natural grade of a parcel, which shall not be changed on any part of a parcel more than two feet vertically…” (Village Code § 116-12 D).  In other words, prior to the application of the maximum height restrictions, up to two feet of fill is allowed to raise the elevation of a property. As a result, the relative height of new residential construction, compared to adjacent streets or neighboring properties, is two feet higher than that allowed in all the other South Fork municipalities.

Number of stories

Except for the Village of Southampton and the Town of East Hampton allowing 2½ stories, all the South Fork communities limit the number of residential building stories to two. In the Town of East Hampton, the additional ½ story is only allowed as uninhabited storage space between the top floor and the roof of a gabled residence, limiting the habitable living space to two stories. In the Village of Southampton, the  ½ story is defined as: “ a story with at least two opposite exterior sides meeting a sloping roof not more than two feet above the floor of such story and having a ceiling height of at least 7½ feet over not more than  ½ the total floor area” (Village Code §116-2B STORY, HALF).  In other words as the top ½ story can contain habitable space within certain size restrictions, the Village of Southampton effectively permits 3 story residential buildings.  No other municipality allows as many stories containing habitable space as the Village of Southampton.

Maximum Height

The Villages of Southampton and Sag Harbor are the only 2 municipalities to allow residential buildings to reach a maximum of 35 feet. The Town of Southampton and the Village of Sagaponack limit building height to 32 feet across all zoning districts. The Town of East Hampton limits maximum pitched roof height to 32 feet with 2 exceptions. Within the R-20 zone, height is restricted to 30 feet. For lots having a 60,000 square feet lot area or greater, gabled roof height can reach a maximum of 35 feet provided a special permit is obtained, certain standards are met and Architectural Review Board approval is granted. The Village of East Hampton has instituted a sliding scale for height restrictions- the larger the lot, the higher the permitted height. For a pitch of 9/12, the maximum height is restricted to 29 feet in lots less than 10,000 square feet. Maximum permitted height gradually increases to 35 feet for lots of having between 80,000 square feet and 160,000 square feet; and 36 feet for lots of 160,000 square feet or greater .

For non-pitched roofs or flat roofs, the Village of Southampton restricts height to a maximum of 27 feet compared to the Town of East Hampton restriction of 25 feet. The Village of East Hampton has the most restrictive flat roof height restrictions with respect to pitch of roof (<9/12) and lot area requirements for lots smaller than 160,000 square feet. As with the pitched  roof restrictions, the flat height restrictions gradually increase with lot area from a minimum of 20 feet for lots less than 10,000 square feet to 27 feet for lots of 160,000 square feet or greater.

While the Village of Sag Harbor has the same maximum 35 foot height limit as the Village of Southampton pitched roof limit, the Village of Southampton is the only municipality to allow up to two feet of fill to be added to a lot prior to measuring height restrictions. This bonus yields the highest relative height of residences in the Village of Southampton. In addition, as the only municipality to allow habitable space in third floor dormers for a total of  2 ½ stories, the Village of Southampton zoning code provides an incentive for residences to reach the full 35 foot height limit.

Pyramid restrictions

Maximum building height is also restricted by the by pyramid regulations which are in effect in all municipalities except in the Village of East Hampton. The pyramid regulations are designed to protect the light, air and privacy of neighboring properties by moving the structure further from the property line as its height increases.  In the Village of Southampton, the pyramid restrictions, or sky plane projections are only applicable in the R-7.5, R.12.5 and R-20 zoning districts. To meet the pyramid restrictions, building heights must not break the sky plane drawn at an angle of 45º from average natural grade at the front and rear lot lines. For side yards, the the sky plane is measured from a line 5 feet above average grade.[1] This allows buildings to be higher and closer to their side yard boundary than if the pyramid measurement was made from grade level as it is in the Towns of Southampton and East Hampton and the Village of Sagaponack. The pyramid regulations in the Village of Sag Harbor are the same as in the Village of Southampton.

Height in Flood zones

The Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements for elevating first floors above natural grade within designated flood hazard zones affects building height as well. Except for the Villages of East Hampton and Sag Harbor where no height bonus is afforded to lots within flood zones, all South Fork municipalities allow building height to be measured from the base flood elevation (plus 2 feet of freeboard or that required by NYS code). This height cannot exceed the pyramid regulations or overall maximum height restrictions within the Town of East Hampton.  The pyramid regulations within the Village of Sagaponack flood zones are measured from 2 feet above natural grade and overall height cannot exceed 32 feet of building or 40 feet above mean sea level whichever is less. The Town of Southampton allows pyramid regulations to be measured from the flood elevation requirements with an overall residential height restriction of 40 feet above mean sea level regardless of the base building height. Within the Village of Southampton, the flood zones generally do not correspond to the zoning districts where the pyramid regulations apply and the 35 foot maximum building height regulation is measured from the base flood elevation requirement (plus 2 feet of freeboard or that required by NYS Code) with no absolute cap above mean sea level.

Height Comparison Summary

In summary, the standards restricting maximum residential building height within the Village of Southampton are among the highest of all the South Fork municipalities in terms of the following parameters: base height elevation, number of stories, maximum height in feet and pyramid regulations. The impacts of these disparities have the largest effect on the lots zoned for 20,000 square feet or less.

2.      Lot Coverage

Lot coverage is the portion of a lot covered by buildings and structures. The improvements classified as structures, however, are not uniform across the South Fork municipalities. In the Village of Southampton, lot coverage computations exclude driveways, parking areas and decks and patios made of stone[2]. The Villages of East Hampton and Sag Harbor also exclude driveways and parking areas, but include patios and decks regardless of the materials. Both the Town of East Hampton and Village of Sagaponack include all impermeable surfaces including driveways and parking areas in the total coverage computations, in essence a separate parameter not comparable to the lot coverage restrictions in other municipalities.  The Town of Southampton regulates building coverage not lot coverage. Building coverage is regulated by all municipalities except for the Village of Southampton.

Maximum lot coverage is established by a constant formula in the Villages of Southampton, East Hampton and Sag Harbor. The Village of Southampton also establishes a 30% absolute maximum coverage for all lot sizes (Village Code § 116-11.1). This cap effectively reduces the maximum coverage as prescribed by the formula for lots less than 11,000 square feet.

Even without including the potential for additional non-wooden patios and decks, the Village of Southampton allows the largest amount of total lot coverage for lots having 12,500 square foot or less. When comparing 7,500 square foot lots, the Village of Southampton allows 50% more coverage than the Village of Sag Harbor. Sag Harbor also permits less coverage than the Village of Southampton for lots having 20,000 square feet. Thus for the two municipalities allowing 35 foot height buildings, the Village of Southampton allows the largest lot coverage for lots R-20 zones or less. For larger lot sizes, the Village of Southampton lot coverage regulations are the most restrictive.

3.      Gross Floor Area

Gross floor area (gfa) within residential districts is the cumulative square footage of every story of the principal building. All the municipalities except for the Town of Southampton and the Village of Sag Harbor regulate residential gross floor area. In the Village of Sagaponack, the maximum gross floor area is governed by a sliding scale, allowing a decreasing percentage of floor area compared to lot area as the lots increase in size. The gross floor area and the absolute maximum house size restrictions are among the most stringent in Village of Sagaponack[3].

The Village of Southampton, Village of East Hampton and the Town of East Hampton all regulate gross floor area by one set formula regardless of lot size: a percentage of lot area plus some constant. The regulations governing the gross floor area in the Village of Southampton, 12% of lot area + 1500(Village Code § 116-17.1B),  are less restrictive than those in the Village of East Hampton, 10% + 1000; but are more stringent than those in the Town of East Hampton- 12% + 1600 square feet.  However, there are two significant exclusions from gross floor area computations allowed by the Village of Southampton. Without contributing to gross floor area maximum computations, attached garages of certain sizes, are permitted. Excluded from gross floor area calculations are attached garages up to 520 square feet within the R-20 zones smaller, and up to 800 square feet in zones requiring larger lot areas (Village Code § 116-17.1 A 4). If the area for attached garages is included, the Village of Southampton allows the largest residential gross floor footage compared to all the South Fork municipalities regulating gfa (See Gross Floor Area Maximum table- figures listed in parenthesis for the Village of Southampton). A second exclusion magnifies this disparity.  As discussed in the section on height, the Village of Southampton is the only municipality to allow habitable floor area in 2½ stories. The half story is excluded from gfa maximum restrictions provided the ceiling height is of 7½ feet or higher does not cover more than ⅓ of the floor area (Village Code § 116-17.1 A 2). Thus the ½ story exception in the Village of Southampton allows additional square footage over and beyond the already least restrictive gfa limitations on the South Fork. This exception also encourages more massive houses extending to the full 35 foot height limit in order to take advantage of the additional permitted livable area[4].

4.      Setbacks

All municipalities regulate setbacks on a sliding scale depending on lot area or zoning. Pyramid regulations also govern setbacks as buildings must be setback from property lines as height increases. Comparisons between municipalities are inexact as the controlling factors- zoning, lot size and pyramid regulations- do not precisely correspond to one another. The Village of Southampton is the only municipality regulating setbacks by lot area and zoning for the front yard whichever is greater (Village Code § 116-11.1 A & B). The Village of Southampton setbacks appear to be in keeping with the other South Fork municipalities with the exception of the side yard setbacks for the smallest lot sizes. For lots less than 12,500 square feet, the 20 foot combined side yard setback in the Village of Southampton is smaller than in all the other municipalities which require between 25 and 40 feet. The Village of Southampton 10 foot minimum setback for one side yard is also less than the 15 and 20 foot setbacks required by the Village of East Hampton, the Village of Sag Harbor and the Town of East Hampton.  The Town of Southampton allows a10 foot minimum setback for one side yard within the R-10 zones.  However, when combined with the Pyramid regulations, the Town of Southampton R-10 zone minimum setbacks for one side yard are more restrictive than those in the Village. Within the Village of Southampton, a 15 foot building or portion of a building can be located 10 feet from the side yard in lots having less than 12,500 square feet, whereas a 15 foot side yard setback would be required for the same building height in the Town of Southampton.

5.      Parking requirements

 All the municipalities require a minimum of 2 off-street parking stalls per residence. One additional parking stall is required for each bedroom over 3 in the Village of Southampton, the Town of Southampton, the Village of Sagaponack and the Village of Sag Harbor.  In the Village of Southampton, driveways can be used to meet the residential parking requirements and both driveways and parking areas can be placed flush against a property boundary, often the case in small lots. Thus neighboring properties are afforded no protection from parking areas on the adjoining lot.  Further, the use of a driveway to meet parking requirements blocks the first car in from exiting. From a practical point of view, parked cars must be juggled about and moved more frequently with this parking arrangement, leading to more than occasional street parking in some of the established neighborhoods in the Village of Southampton.

The Town of Southampton and the Village of Sagaponack mandate setbacks for the required off-street parking: “Accessory off-street parking areas shall not be located in a required front yard or side yard and shall not be less than 10 feet from any property line in a required rear yard[5].”   Thus neighboring properties are afforded protection and privacy from parking areas and the driveway is less likely to be used for stacked parking.

In sum, the Village of Southampton employs five principal tools to regulate size and mass of residential development: maximum height restrictions, relative height or pyramid regulations, maximum lot coverage limits, maximum gross floor area restrictions and yard setback requirements. Although not included in the coverage limits, parking requirements also affect intensity of lot development. Until recently, dwellings sizes were proportionate to lot size. Market forces and desirability of the Village of Southampton have combined to alter the historic building patterns to the point where the larger sized homes, traditionally built on large lots are being constructed on smaller lots. The regulations governing height as determined by number of stories and base elevation allow the highest residences in the Village of Southampton compared to all the other South Fork communities. The exemptions allowed for computing gross floor area allow the largest residences compared to other South Fork municipalities regulating gfa. The R-7.5 zoning district allows the smallest side yard setback than any other municipality.  Parking standards and regulations for these small lots contributes to overcrowding.


[1] For flag lots in the Village of Southampton the sky plane for front, rear and side yards are all measured at a 45º angle from natural grade.

[2] Personal communications with Village of Southampton Building Department 4/23/14

[3] It is noted that the Village of Sagaponack has a gfa exclusion for all uninhabited areas, including all attached or detached roofed structures provided the sum of these structures and the gfa of the house does not exceed 115% of the residence gfa. No other municipality includes accessory structures in their gfa maximums.

[4] The Comparative Gross Floor Area chart does not compute additional floor area allowed in the upper ½ story. The potential for ½ story additional square footage is represented by a plus (+) sign.

[5] Village of Sagaponack Town Code Chapter 245-34; Town of Southampton Code Chapter 330-77

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