To “build in kind” means to renovate or rebuild a structure basically as it is—in the same form and existing footprint. It is generally a much lower impact option than other types of construction projects. These days in East Hampton, we don’t see very much of building in kind anymore…
In fact, for years now, we’ve been seeing the opposite – it’s been mainly “all demo, no reno.” And mostly, it’s been all about…BIGGER. Houses, even not very old ones, are demolished and replaced with new structures, most often double to quadruple the size. Or new construction on previously undeveloped parcels clears and covers as much of the lot as possible. And a surge in lot subdivisions is driving rapid densification where there had been a sense of open space.
Much of this aggressive building, nearly all houses that are used only intermittently, is of a scale and in a style far out of proportion and context with the character of the surrounding streets and neighborhoods. The effect on our natural resources is severe, as each year, miles of woodlands, duneland, wetlands and native vegetation are excavated -- supplanted with impervious surface and planted with sod and ornamentals. The impact: it compromises quality of life for human residents and is devastating for our wild biodiversity; it’s out of step with the Town’s environmental and affordability imperatives.
Indeed, something has changed… For decades, home- and landowners had demonstrated tacit understanding that building “as of right” in a place as special as East Hampton comes with some responsibilities extending beyond their property lines. They seem to have understood that the value of their own property links inextricably to sustaining the Town’s essential character and environment, and vice versa.
But over the last 3-5 years, many owners and developers, as well as other members of the real estate ecosystem, have slipped the bonds of self-limiting restraints. The shift in mindset has been sharp and swift, and voracious appetite to max out or even break through code-based dimensional ceilings has become the norm. This current attitude is threatening to overwhelm our rural “look and feel” and extinguishing hope of solving our affordable housing crisis or properly addressing our state of climate emergency. And it certainly presents serious challenge to the sustained efficacy of our Town zoning code.
It’s time to take some action!
So, I’ve started an effort I am calling Build.In.Kind/East Hampton. My objective is to help to restore rational restraint and inspire desire for more modulated proportions in order to mitigate the negative impact of development activity on our Town by instilling a “stewardship mindset” and sowing a “land ethic.” The goal is to have building and development (in terms of scale and scope) that is literally kinder to – i.e., has a gentler and more positive effect on-- our natural resources, environment, coastal resiliency, rural and historical character, affordability, sustainability and quality of life.
My hope is all East Hampton building projects will be viewed not just through the narrowest lens of individual wants, but also from a broader perspective of overall impact on the land and community.
Most important...this isn’t about battling against things like property rights or profit motive; instead, it is about striving FOR something: the rebalancing of individual rights and wants with broader interests, values, needs and rights of the community. These principles do not undermine a robust economy in East Hampton -- in actuality, they will enhance and sustain commercial activity and property values long term.
The six foundational pillars of Build.In.Kind/East Hampton development are:
Build.in.Kind with…Natural Resources:
Restrain/minimize clearing of woodlands, dune lands, wetlands; protect and restore wildlife habitats and native vegetation; develop with a focus on entire ecosystem; incentivize proactive stewardship and build accountability through oversight and enforcement.
Build.in.Kind with…Coastal Areas & Shorelines:
Reduce scale/lighten footprint of building along ocean, bay, pond, and lake shorelines; develop in a way that respects ongoing natural coastal changes; prevent man-made "hardening" of coastal areas and do not impede natural erosion; minimize impervious surfaces; stem and reverse degradation of water quality and habitat loss; protect/restore shore vistas & ensure citizen access & peaceful enjoyment of beaches for all.
Build.in.Kind with…Environmental & Sustainability:
Realize individual & overall net reductions in house emissions and effluent (carbon, nitrogen etc); stop excessive/ unnecessary energy, water, chemical and materials consumption and waste; factor groundwater rise properly in development scale and scope; fully protect our aquifer/drinking water quality; remediate and protect the water quality of all our water bodies; minimize impervious surfaces and ensure flood resiliency.
Build.in.Kind with…Housing Affordability:
Ensure diverse housing stock by protecting lots < ½ acre & keeping one third of housing mix <2000 sq. ft to ensure supply of homes that remain accessible to people who live and work in EH; deploy various models, including a not-for profit "land trust" and ramp up private/grants fundraising; set required ratios of expanded GFA:affordable housing units to be added; extend the use of affordable housing overlays.
Build.in.Kind with…Sense of Place:
Construct/landscape with scale, scope, design, and materials that integrate with rather than dominate surroundings and landscape; maintain authentic aesthetic in order to protect bucolic, agricultural, traditional/historic viewsheds & shoreline vistas; fend off suburbanization.
Scale back sprawl & intensity of use; don’t build looming structures or compromise neighbors’ rights to peaceful enjoyment of their own properties; minimize noise, light and visual pollution; retain open space/breathing room; protect setbacks, pyramid limits, open front yards and minimize fencing/gates and "screening" with rows of non-native evergreens.
With Build.In.Kind/East Hampton I am looking to build constructive and positive engagement by bringing together analytical and creative, forward-looking, concerned citizens in two ways:
First, in the near term: forming a working group of individuals drawn from all our Hamlets to (a) help to rethink Town zoning code strategically and tactically in a way that builds upon its historical validity and addresses the new reality; (b) engage and educate as well as advocate and advise appropriately our town boards, committees, and departments as well as citizens, homeowners, and visitors.
Second, over the longer term: developing a network of people who work in all parts of the real estate ecosystem -- brokers, builders, developers, architects, designers, landscapers, lawyers and consultants-- who want to join in with this effort and work to integrate the principles of Build.In.Kind into the business of real estate development in order to create value not just for themselves, but for all stakeholders in our community.
I’d love to hear from you if you would like to get involved and be part of this effort, or if you simply want to hear more, share your thoughts or offer advice.