Hampstead mayor William Steinberg last week vetoed a unanimous council vote to allow homeowner Jeremy Levi to redo his home with the flat portion of his roof being 35 percent of the total measurement of the premises.Levi had originally asked that, in his request for a minor exemption, the flat roof constitute 40 percent of the home’s total measurement, rather than the allowed 20. In his original presentation Levi had made the point that it was, “My house, my choice,” in the absence of any rationale for the 20.
The resident told the March council meeting that he had addressed issues brought up by town staff. “We spent a lot of time and money trying to figure out what Hampstead wanted us to do,” Levi said. “All along, we were told the 40 percent was no longer an issue as long as everything else [fit within the site planning program.]... We made numerous revisions... And we dropped it down to 35 percent. When the Planning Advisory Committee refused the project, to say we were surprised would be an understatement. What do you say to us now?”
Steinberg responded that his original answer at the November council meeting was that “40 percent is not a minor derogation.”You kept pushing and pushing and talking to councillors. It’s within your rights, but don’t blame the councillors, who were kind enough to talk, consider and bring in a consultant. We have never, ever approved a minor exemption for the percentage of flat roof, and members of the PAC have unanimously said no, it’s not acceptable. The smart thing to do would have been to listen to me when I said the truth, it’s not a minor derogation, it’s major. We’ve had hundreds of homes built respecting the 20 percent flat roof. You can do the same thing — there’s no reason you can’t.”
But then, during a lengthy and sometimes confused procedural discussion, Councillor Jack Edery said the homeowner had been “dicked around” in this months-long process. “We should not be ignoring our bylaws, but really?” Edery told Levi. “You’ve been dicked around so much. There’s justice and there’s law, and I think in this case, justice has to outweigh the law.”
With that, councillors voted unanimously to accept Levi’s 35 percent flat roof — the Mayor does not vote on resolutions unless there’s a tie. Steinberg then announced his veto, which means the issue will come back at the April council meeting, when a majority of council could overturn his veto.
“I am vetoing this because it creates a terrible precedent,” the Mayor said. “We have never granted a minor exemption for this before, and it is in no way minor. It will invariably lead to numerous more requests for 35 percent flat roofs. And it will probably lead to requests for minor exemptions for other bylaws.”
But Edery made it clear that council’s vote was an exception, because of the circumstances regarding Levi’s case.”I want to send a really clear message that [council’s vote] is not the new standard,” he explained. “We’re doing this out of sympathy and mercy, because we dicked him around. Don’t expect that we’re going to be pushovers. We gave him hope where he shouldn’t have had hope, and we dragged it out.”
Levi told The Suburban afterwards that he appreciates the council’s vote.”It’s very disappointing, but not surprising, considering how the Mayor has been running this town as his kingdom, doing what he wants,” the resident added.Levi added that requested revisions were made “in the dark, because the Mayor blocked my architect and myself from attending any of the PAC meetings to figure out what they wanted us to do. We were told numerous times the exemption shouldn’t be an issue.”
Asked about access to the PAC meetings, Steinberg said those meetings are private.
“On an exceptional basis, we allow an owner and/or architect to attend, but this virtually only happens when a project is refused a couple of times,” the Mayor added. “In this case, they requested a meeting before anything had even been proposed, which is never done. And we were not elected to feel bad because something has dragged on.”