Architects Have Confrontation Over Proposed Size of Townhouse Project

A rendering of the most recent plans for 2 West Water Street by architect Andre Kikoski.

Architects representing Save Sag Harbor and developer Jay Bialsky last Thursday, January 10, clashed publicly over the details of Mr. Bialsky’s proposal to build a complex of two waterfront townhouses at 2 West Water Street, one containing two large condo units and the other containing one.

The verbal fisticuffs erupted during the public comment portion of a hearing before the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, after architect Randy Croxton and Save Sag Harbor board member Hilary Loomis presented an animated video that they said showed the details of Mr. Bialsky’s proposal.

One of the developer’s architects charged that the presentation was inaccurate and misleading.

Presented from the varying points of view of pedestrians, drivers and boaters, the rendering was projected onto a wall of the village’s municipal meeting room, drawing applause and many murmurs of approval from a large crowd that had gathered for the public hearing.

Mr. Croxton described the animation as a visual representation of “the pure massing of the project” that juxtaposed the existing former motel building now on the site with the proposed building as it shifted from street level view to the water level view to a perspective from the Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter Memorial Bridge.

Someone shouted from the audience, “It’s humungous. It takes my town away.”

The animation, shown twice, sparked Mr. Bialsky’s team to take the offensive.

“I would say it’s very inaccurate,” architect Dave Harvey said. “Your measurements from grade are greatly inaccurate. You are misrepresenting yourself.”

“We invite and would be delighted to have any … improvement and clarification,” Mr. Croxton said, after which the hearing devolved into loud, back-and-forth exchanges between the two sides.

“We’re producing images that you’re calling false,” Mr. Croxton said. “This is your set of drawings as submitted here and the proportions are all correct.”

“You’re sure of that? You swear on your license?” Mr. Harvey said.

Board chairman Anthony Brandt picked up his gavel and intervened.

“The dispute between the two of you is easy enough to settle, but at this point is not relevant,” he said.

Jayne Young, another Save Sag Harbor member, approached the podium to make a correction. “I wanted to just acknowledge the greater width of open space that will be between the 7-Eleven building and 2 West Water Street” than exists now, she said, and called for a study of foot traffic.

“In looking to allow for public access” to the proposed Steinbeck Park “on the west side of the 7-Eleven building, could this revision that has recently been made be a path that can then allow people to access the park from the western edge of the 7-Eleven building?”

Attorney Brian DeSesa, representing Mr. Bialsky, said in an interview Monday the Save Sag Harbor model misrepresented the proposed buildings’ ridge height, first floor elevation, street-front setback, setback from the eastern property line and scale relative to the house immediately to the west of the property.

“I think it gives a false perception to the community as to what’s being constructed there,” Mr. DeSesa said. “We’re producing a 3D video and also a physical model for the next meeting that’s to scale.”

Mr. Croxton responded Wednesday by saying he is now in contact with Mr. Bialsky’s design team to more closely correlate the Save Sag Harbor model with the Bialsky model. He said since last Thursday’s meeting, he has taken photographs at the site, and acknowledged the neighboring house to the west is larger than it appeared in Save Sag Harbor’s animated model. He also said he felt the commercial structures were fairly represented in the Save Sag Harbor model.

“The sense of scale and relationships all of the other context is basically being derived by both teams from Google Earth and available topographic references. There is a degree of abstraction,” Mr. Croxton said. “That’s why we’re coordinating that, so I think that will reconcile both representations of the project, which is what I specifically invited at that meeting. We are basically putting forth a deeper means of looking at and understanding a project in the context of the community and the responsibilities of the architectural review board.”

Mr. Bialsky has proposed three residential units in two brick structures: one that fronts on West Water Street that will appear to passersby to be two units separated by a 12-foot breezeway and another housing the third unit standing closer to the water.

His architects explained the third unit will be 28 feet away from the complex of buildings to the east. Collectively, they are proposed to contain just under 24,000 square feet — down from more than 27,000 square feet in a previous iteration —and have been approved for several variances by the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals. They are each three stories tall, with approximately 12-by-20 foot rooftop pools, and an underground parking area in the street-front unit. The proposed height of the building is 44 feet, 6 inches, which is several feet lower than the cupola of the existing former motel building that was converted into a residence.

There will be six dock slips on the water, though the number of slips may shift based on the size of the boats to be docked there. The front façade building is planned as a blend of red-toned brick and the back will be white with tan and black bricks mixed in. The back of the buildings is planned with “lighter-weight construction” with wood porches. Sidewalks are in the plan, along with trees along the street and a comprehensive landscaping plan designed by Edmund Hollander.

Andre Kikoski, one of Mr. Bialsky’s architects, said one of the board’s previous comments “was that these buildings feel very industrial and how can we make them look more residential, so we spent a great deal of time on the brick detailing. It’s really about softening the feeling … and trying to synthesize architecture in Sag Harbor.”

At the start of the public hearing, Mr. Brandt announced the board would be extending it over two meetings. He told Mr. Bialsky’s team he would be requiring them to provide a physical, three-dimensional model of the proposed project, as is the board’s right under village code.

“I’m not asking for something huge,” Mr. Brandt said. “I’m asking for something I can look at and feel secure in what I’m voting on. It’s going to help. It’s not going to hurt you.”

Mr. Harvey and Mr. DeSesa were reluctant at first to agree to do it.

“There has been a 3D model made in virtual reality,” Mr. Harvey had said. “We can produce multiple shots of that 3D model. … We’d like you to consider the virtual model.”

Mr. Bialsky’s representatives later confirmed they would provide the physical 3D model — after Mr. Croxton and Ms. Loomis presented Save Sag Harbor’s animated model. Attorney Brian DeSesa also asked the board to strike Save Sag Harbor’s presentation from the official record “and allow us to provide that model.” The board made no response.

Others in the audience spoke up to oppose the project.

“I understand the evolution of the project and I do appreciate there has some been downsizing of the square footage,” Renee Simons said. “My concern is still the mass of the square footage. It’s huge. It sets an incredible precedent that I worry about. It really keeps me up a little bit at night. … It’s huge, it’s heavy. It does not carry the character of the village.”

The board received several letters in support of the proposal.

Paul Glickman, who owns the property at 4 West Water Street, next door, wrote to say he had reviewed Mr. Bialsky’s plans. “I support the application and urge you to approve it,” Mr. Glickman said.

Tara and Scott Fordham of Sag Harbor wrote to say they are “strongly in favor of the beautiful brick architecture of the three proposed townhomes.” Referring to the former motel on the site, they added, “We hope you swiftly approve this application so we can finally rid our wonderful village of the white monstrosity that has been an eyesore for so many years.”

Roxanne Briggs, a real estate agent with Brown Harris Stevens, wrote to say she believes the project is “well designed,” “totally in keeping with the architecture of downtown Sag Harbor,” and “a good balance of old and new.”

Some board members said the project had evolved in a positive direction so far.

“I’m very impressed,” board member Dean Gomolka said. “I think you did a great job in thinking it through. I think it’s come a long way.”

“I appreciate the work that you’ve done,” board member Bethany Deyermond added.

The board voted 5-0 to hold open the public hearing to its next meeting on Thursday, January 24, at 5 p.m. The project also awaits final site plan approval by the Sag Harbor Planning Board, which is holding one more public session on the matter on Tuesday, January 22, at 5:30 p.m.

Harbor Committee Begins Review

On Monday, January 14, the village’s Harbor Committee opened its hearing on the Bialsky application for a wetlands permit to allow the project to be built within 150 feet of a wetlands boundary, in this case the shoreline.

The discussion ranged over many details, including the proposed boat slips and boardwalk, but focused on plans to extend the bulkhead from its current length of 100 feet to about 235 feet, replacing concrete and asphalt rubble that was dumped along the beach there over the decades with rip rap. A riprap rock revetment further to the northeast will stay in place.

“A non-hardened shoreline is not possible,” Angelo Laino, of VHB civil engineers in Hauppauge, told the board, because the long slope required for a natural wetland interface would require cutting far into the property, leaving no room for drainage, the planned boardwalk and other infrastructure. The plan would create 536 square feet of new wetlands between the newly laid rip rap, which will be placed more to landward than the rubble that is there now, and the extended bulkhead.

The committee held the hearing open until its next meeting in February.