Trump commerce secretary once flouted zoning laws and built a wall around his Southampton property
Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross had been vacationing in the Hamptons since the 1960s, but he had no idea how loud Montauk Highway traffic was.
President Trump isn’t the only one in his administration who thinks a border wall can solve a problem.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross once built an illegal wall on the perimeter of his swanky Southampton estate to block the noise from the American Indian reservation across the street and the traffic along Montauk Highway.
When the billionaire cabinet member was told he couldn’t have the wall, he waged a three-year legal battle with the local zoning board of appeals that he ultimately lost.
Ross installed the sound barrier after his infant grandson kept waking up from the procession of cars and trucks along the highway and from the parade of customers at the tax-free tobacco shops on Shinnecock Nation land.
The noise also made it nearly impossible for his family to have a conversation on his sprawling front yard, Ross said in the court records. And it drowned out the serene sounds of his water fountain, he claimed.
Ross illegally put up a wall on his swanky Southampton estate in 2003 because the noise from Montauk Highway and the American Indian reservation across the street kept waking his infant grandson.
The wealthy investor applied for a variance with the town’s zoning board of appeals in January 2001, shortly after purchasing the home for $1.35 million. To bolster his case, he hired an acoustic expert, who found that noise levels in his yard were as much as four times louder than the local ordinance would permit at night.
When the board took too long to hear his application, Ross preemptively built the barrier — a 6-foot fence on top of a 3-foot berm along the property line adjacent to Montauk Highway.
That move didn’t sit well with the board, which heard his application on May 17, 2001.
Ross, who now oversees trade talks with Mexico and a special investigation into foreign steel’s impact on U.S. national security, told the board members at the hearing that the preemptive build was “ill-advised” but his contractor had said it was OK.
Ross said at a zoning board hearing that the preemptive build was “ill-advised” but his contractor had said it was OK.
(New York Daily News)
“I’m not trying to make trouble in the community or be a wise guy, or any other thing like that,” he said, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Ross said he had only visited the home once before he bought it.
He also claimed that, although he had been vacationing in the Hamptons since the 1960s, he had no idea how loud Montauk Highway traffic was.
“I may be a little demented in not having figured out what all that added up to before I bought the property," he told the board at the time.
Wilbur Ross apparently didn’t realize how loud Montauk Highway traffic was before he purchased the Southampton property for $1.35 million.
(New York Daily News)
Ultimately, Ross’ application was shot down, with the board saying the wall was too high.
In 2003, he filed a petition in Suffolk County Supreme Court, asking a judge to overturn the decision. Three years later, the judge instructed Ross to refile an application — which was also denied.
Keith Tuthill, one of the board members who denied the application, told the Daily News that it’s highly unlikely Ross didn’t know about the traffic when he purchased the home.
“Wasn’t Montauk Highway there before Wilbur Ross got there?” Tuthill said.
President Trump points to Ross at Trump International Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Nov. 20 before he nominated him for secretary of commerce.
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The tony town frequently gets variance applications from the very rich, according to Tuthill.
“For millionaires, you have to understand you’re dealing with a lot of people who got money,” he said. “They want their tennis court where they want them. They want their swimming pool on this side of the property.”
Tuthill said he and his board are open to variances but in Ross’ case the wall would have set a precedent for anyone who had property along Montauk Highway.
“From Eastport to Wainscott, everybody would have a 6-foot fence,” he said.
Ross ended up selling 2 Briar Lane to a buyer for $4 million — $2.65 million more than what Ross paid.
(New York Daily News)
After losing the war over the wall, Ross put the home up for sale — but the noise didn’t affect the asking price. A buyer paid $4 million for the estate in 2007 — $2.65 million more than what Ross paid.
A spokesman for the Commerce Department secretary said that Ross had been assured that the barrier was in compliance when he had it erected.
“Upon discovering that it was not, they applied for a variance,” the spokesman said. “After it and the subsequent appeal were denied, they sold the home and lowered the barrier’s height to bring it into compliance.”