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Just Say No

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Golden arches long ago invaded the Champs-Élysées, but they'll never make it to Main Street in the village of East Hampton, perhaps the most tightly zoned locality in America. When a CVS drugstore arrived last year, the village's design-review board jawboned the chain into giving up its familiar tomato-red sign; this one is sage green. A 1996 ordinance eliminates all public neon and neon-type lighting. Awning graphics may indicate only a business's name. No product descriptions are allowed. Not even a telephone number.

The East Hampton board's gentle potentate is Carolyn Preische, a 60-year-old Atlanta native who has lived in the town for 35 years. Preische was long active in the Ladies' Village Improvement Society, whose members, Carry Nation-like, had hacked down billboards on Montauk Highway in the twenties. The board's powers are subtle but far-reaching. "It's good if people come to us when their project is very much in the planning stages in their minds," says Preische. "Later, it can be hard to have a fruitful discussion."

After all, this is the village that had Jerry Della Femina arrested a few years ago for selling pumpkins on the front lawn of the Red Horse Market. (The case was later dropped.) And the town of East Hampton's zoning board, stretching from Georgica Pond to Montauk, can be just as draconian. Four years ago, swimming instructor Lawrence Heneveld was giving lessons to children in his home pool -- a zoning no-no. When he persisted despite a cease-and-desist order, Heneveld was briefly jailed.

The adage that good fences make good neighbors was not borne out in another recent squabble. Franc Vitale decided he no longer wanted to see topless sunbathers in the backyard of trend-spotter Faith Popcorn, his Georgica Pond neighbor. He erected a five-foot-high fence down the property line right to the water. "This man wanted to cocoon deeply," says Popcorn, who asked the zoning board to make Vitale remove a portion of the fence closest to the water, which she claimed had spoiled her view. The board sided with Vitale, who got to keep his fence. Popcorn then wrangled with another neighbor, the attorney Lloyd Cutler, who objected to her plans to double the size of a cottage on her property. It took four years of sometimes acrimonious hearings before Popcorn finally won approval to build her addition last winter. After a personal on-site inspection, Cutler sent her a bottle of champagne. "Good champagne," Popcorn reports.


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