Maybe Patriotic, but Sag Harbor ZBA Says Flagpole Too Tall

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The flagpole at the Gulf gas station on Hampton Street has been deemed too tall by the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Michael Heller photo

By Christine Sampson

No matter how patriotic it may seem, the height of a flagpole flying the stars-and-stripes of the United States of America must still conform to Sag Harbor Village’s zoning code — which the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals reinforced Tuesday by denying a business owner a variance for a flagpole four times the height allowed under village law.

According to Sag Harbor building inspector Tom Preiato, the flagpole at the Gulf gas station on Hampton Street, formerly Harbor Heights, is 60 feet tall. Village code prohibits flagpoles taller than 15 feet in a residential zone, and indeed the gas station is considered a pre-existing, non-conforming building in a residential area.

But the big issue, according to ZBA chairman Tim McGuire, is the gas station’s site plan, which was approved early in 2015 after the village boards slogged through its different iterations over the course of 18 months, did not include a flagpole in the first place.

Attorney Eli Markowitz, representing Sukru Ilgin, the Gulf station’s owner, told the ZBA that the flagpole did not just appear. “It was not put up in a vacuum without regard to the rules of the village. It was part of the whole plan and the package that was presented,” he said.

But Mr. McGuire disputed that claim.

“It was not applied for,” Mr. McGuire said during Tuesday’s meeting. “It was not approved. It did just appear. … It’s unfortunate, especially when we spend 18 months pouring over this in great detail.”

Mr. Ilgin insisted Mr. Preiato had given him the go-ahead for the flagpole, but Mr. Preiato said Wednesday he had told Mr. Ilgin he could apply to have one.

“I did say that they could put a code-compliant flagpole there, but I can’t just give a variance, so I didn’t say they could just do it,” Mr. Preiato said. “He said he would take it down and he did not, so I issued an appearance ticket.”

Mr. McGuire suggested Wednesday that the village’s restriction on the height of a flagpole may have been a decision based on aesthetics at some point. In other areas of the village, including commercial districts, flagpoles can be up to 30 feet tall, but that’s the maximum Sag Harbor allows.

“It’s a very specific measurement in the code,” Mr. McGuire said Wednesday. “Why it is there and why 15 instead of 12 or 18 feet, I don’t know. It’s kind of like setbacks. Why does a pool have to be 15 feet instead of 12 or 20 feet? It’s negotiated and depends on who the trustees were at the time it was drafted.”

During a public hearing Tuesday that was continued from the April meeting because no one was present on behalf of the gas station to discuss the variance request, members of the public urged the ZBA to deny it.

“Even if there were approvals, 60 feet in height is quite exorbitant,” said Michael Butler, who lives near the gas station. “In contrast, the flagpoles at the Washington memorial in our nation’s capitol are only 25 feet tall. What is it we are memorializing here, I wonder?”

Mr. Butler also said the flagpole “dominates the surrounding area, is a further attempt to advertise and mark the destination,” and asserted there is already “more than adequate signage and lighting to mark it as such.”

Jayne Young, a member of the group Save Sag Harbor, endorsed Mr. Butler’s assessment.

“It’s at the gateway of the village and it’s really very important to set the tone for the feeling, the entrance and, more important than anything, the support of the code from this board,” she said.

Neither Mr. Markowitz nor Mr. Ilgin had anything to say in response to the public testimony, and the ZBA unanimously denied the variance request.

Following the meeting, some ZBA members and the board’s attorney, Denise Schoen, discussed next steps, which would include finding a way to enforce the ZBA’s decision and have the flagpole removed.

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