On the face of it, the absence of two members of the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals from the November 16 meeting didn’t seem like a big deal.
But to members of the Schiavoni family, who have been trying to get the ZBA to grant an exemption for their property at 31 Long Island Avenue from a moratorium on most waterfront development applications, it may have been the last straw.
Gabe and Diane Schiavoni, the original owners of the property, who have since transferred it to their son, David, under the name VAC Enterprises Inc., said the snail’s pace of the review process has angered them so much that they are planning to leave their home on Oakland Avenue and move out of the village, where they have lived their entire lives.
“I’m so upset,” said Diane Schiavoni, who has put her mark on numerous charitable efforts in the village over the years. “This village doesn’t care about Sag Harbor people anymore. These people come into the village, and they can do anything they want. But a local family struggles to do something, and they say no.”
“It’s been one excuse after another,” added her husband. “This has been going on for seven years, and that’s enough.”
Their property, just west of the Sag Harbor Post Office, originally was the site of a low-slung, one-story building that was home to a number of retail uses. It was razed in 2008 when National Grid remediated pollution from the old gas ball property next door.
“We did it because it was the right thing to do for the village,” Gabe Schiavoni said of agreeing to have the building torn down to make the cleanup easier.
The village assured the Schiavonis they would be able to rebuild the same building. But over the years, they submitted a number of applications for very different structures, first a three-story building and later a two-story building, before recently settling on a proposal that calls for a one-story building with an attic that could potentially be put into use as a second story.
The plan, the Schiavonis say, is to lease the first floor as a space for a new 7-Eleven convenience store, with the attic used for storage.
Although the family’s request for a waiver from the moratorium seemed to be making progress back in August when the ZBA first discussed the application, the neighbors sent their attorneys to object at a September hearing.
Both Tiffany Scarlato, representing properties associated with Adam Potter, the chairman of Friends of Bay Street, which was formed to build a new home for Bay Street Theater, and Alex Kriegsman representing Sag Harbor Development Holdings and JAB 2 West Water Street, the three condos developed by Jay Bialsky, urged the board to deny the Schiavonis’ application.
With two members absent last week, Dennis Downes, the Schiavonis’ attorney, requested that the application be adjourned until the December 21 meeting. The record on the application had already been closed. The only thing remaining for the board to do was to discuss the final submissions and make a decision.
But with only three members present — Chairman Val Florio, Scott Baker and J. Hamil Willoughby — the application could only be approved if all three voted in favor. Member Alex Matthiessen signed in on Zoom later in the meeting.
“My preference is a full board,” Downes said, “considering the importance of this application.” Had the request been turned down by, say, a 2-1 vote, the Schiavonis would have been denied permission to take their application to the Planning Board until the moratorium, expected to end February 28, is over.
Florio declined to discuss the situation, saying via email it was “inappropriate to comment” on an ongoing application.
David Schiavoni could also not be reached for comment — but his parents had plenty to say.
“The next meeting is December 21, four days before Christmas, and you know they won’t have a full board then,” said Diane Schiavoni, adding that since the November meeting was done via Zoom anyway, there was no excuse for the board to not have all its members present.
She said she feared further delays would jeopardize her son’s deal with 7-Eleven.
The Schiavonis said they had been asked by a village official to consider coming forward with yet another plan — this time for affordable housing — but they say they have already poured too much money into the project to start over again. Besides, they said, the rent they would collect would take too long to recoup their investment. “I’m looking out for my own pocketbook,” Gabe Schiavoni said, adding that he has already done his share by keeping prices affordable at two rentals he owns.
Plus, he said, it would be foolhardy for the village to consider building affordable housing on small lots in the heart of the village. “That’s some of the highest priced real estate on Long Island, and they want to put affordable housing in the middle of it. Stupid!” he said. “It belongs up by Verizon or on the East Hampton road,” referring to a phone company site on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike or Route 114.
Diane Schiavoni said she was not joking about moving. “I have a lot of friends here,” she said. “I will not leave them, but I’m going to look in Bridgehampton or Wainscott.”
The departure of the Schiavonis would mark the exit of a local family with deep roots in the village as well as a blow to any number of local fundraising efforts.
Just last month, the Sag Harbor Partnership honored Diane Schiavoni with its Community Service Award for her many types of service to the village. Most recently, she single-handedly raised more than $50,000 to help restore the grandstand at Mashashimuet Park, and her name has been associated with service across a wide spectrum of village institutions.
“Good people finish last,” her husband said. “That’s what we’re finding out.”