Cinema Structural Fix Will Be Hidden Inside to Avoid Long Delay Needed for Hearing on Alternative

Cinema architect Allen Kopelson conferring with some of the members of the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board on September 26: from left, Bethany Deyermond, Dean Gomolka, David Berridge and Alexander Pashkowsky. Peter Boody photo

“Oh my God. Our cinema opening is going to be a little bit later than we’d hoped,” said April Gornik, representing Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center at the September 26 meeting of the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board, when she learned that a public hearing on a new exterior design proposal for bolstering a third-floor wall wouldn’t take place until October 26 at the earliest.

But four days later, Ms. Gornik disclosed that the proposal before the board — raising the second-floor parapet two feet to hide a knee brace for the third-floor wall — would be withdrawn, making a public hearing unnecessary and allowing the project to stay on track for an opening around Christmastime.

April Gornik of the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center speaking before the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board last week.

Ms. Gornik made the disclosure in an email on Monday, saying the cinema’s board had made the decision “because it has found an interior solution to the problem,” she wrote. “The urgency to have the building closed up and moving forward is prompting this decision, although it will unfortunately reduce the Cinema’s interior space.”

Ms. Gornik’s plaintive comment forecasting a delay in the end-of-year cinema opening came as she finished a presentation with cinema architect Allen Kopelson on the redesign option, the goal of which was to solve a structural problem that emerged some weeks ago: the third-floor wall needs lateral support to carry the weight of wide bank of windows.

Over the summer, crews mounted steel rods behind the second-floor parapet to brace the third-floor wall and added a sloping roof to hide them — changes never approved by the board or the building inspector, as required by the village code and the rules of the Sag Harbor Historic District.

The board rejected that so-called “mansard roof” fix when it reviewed the issue with Mr. Kopelson at its September 12 session, ordering him to return on September 26 with better alternatives. Ms. Gornik joined him when he returned to the board last Thursday with the new plan for a higher wall to hide knee braces.

Before she realized it would take another month before a hearing could be held on the proposed design change, Ms. Gornik argued against an interior fix when Mr. Gomolka asked about that as an alternative.

“I guess we could” install interior bracing “but it would wreck the inside,” she said. “To have it inside, it would make us lose a lot of space. We prefer to find a solution that’s exterior.”

Board members agreed to set a hearing on the proposed exterior fix once the cinema submitted letters from two independent engineers endorsing the option as the best solution. If that had remained the plan, and the letters had been submitted, the board would have voted at its next meeting on October 10 to set the hearing for its following session on October 26.

But with the plans withdrawn, no hearing will be necessary.

The board’s reaction to the exterior design solution seemed muted, except for that of David Berridge, an architect himself, who renewed the criticism of the project he had voiced at the September 12 session.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Mr. Berridge said, “the lack of care and forethought, and I don’t believe this is the best solution. I mean, once again … it’s just making the building bigger and bigger and bigger.”

He complained that he had asked for the cinema’s engineer to attend the September 26 meeting when Mr. Kopelson first appeared before the board.

“It’s the only solution without ripping up the floor,” Mr. Kopelson said of the plan. Ms. Gornik said that the project engineer, Jeff Ling, was unable to come to the meeting because he is based in New Jersey and has been too busy to make the trip to Sag Harbor.

“To me, in a building this size,” she added, “going two feet up is not a grand amount of change.”

Architect’s rendering of redesigned west and south wall off the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, including the “green wall” of vegetation intended to hide its mass. Even though the walls will not be increased two feet in height, as shown, the vegetative wall remains part of the plan.

The board’s chair appeared to agree. Mr. Gomolka praised landscape architect Edmund Hollander for doing “a great job” explaining in a recent letter to the board his landscape plan for a “green wall,” which will cloak the rear the cinema building in vegetation. The plan, Mr. Gomolka added, “mitigated all the problems I have” with the new design.

Ms. Gornik began her presentation to the board with an apology.

Explaining she was there on behalf of the Sag Harbor Partnership, the original sponsor of the cinema project, and the Cinema Arts Center, she said, “I want to apologize for what was correctly perceived as a lack of transparency on our part … It was not our intention to deceive anyone or put anything over on anybody. When the plywood [roof structure] went up in the back, all the board members [of the Partnership] said, ‘What the hell is that?’ We had not been aware that was the solution that had been suggested and we didn’t like it either.”

“It is entirely our responsibility to make this right,” she added, “and we have every intention of doing so. And what we’re presenting to you tonight, I hope, will help.”

Addressing another sore point, she told the board that the HVAC equipment on the roof of the building will be hidden. “We know it’s visible, we don’t like it, and we’re looking at solutions for it,” she said. But because the wall redesign had not been approved yet, “we wanted to wait” until it is in order “to give you a complete package, but we will be presenting that as soon as possible.”

Also, Mr. Kopleson informed the board that electric utility PSE&G will be removing an unsightly transformer and utility pole that loom over the cinema’s southwest corner.