Architectural Review Board Chairman Resigns

ARB Chairman Anthony Brandt during the Sag Harbor Architectural Review Board meeting in village hall regarding the proposed condominiums at 2 West Water Street on Thursday evening, 1/24/19. Michael Heller photo

Anthony Brandt, who was the founding chairman of Sag Harbor’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review in the late 1980s, and who returned to the board in 2016, resigned on Wednesday.

He previously announced his intent to resign during the January 24 meeting of the review board, initially intending to wait until after he formally cast a vote on the controversial proposal for townhouses at 2 West Water Street put forth by developer Jay Bialsky.

The review board was split 2-2 in a straw poll on the townhouse project on January 24 — with Mr. Brandt opposing it — and the would-be deciding member, David Berridge, was unable to vote because he had not yet reviewed the full record of Mr. Bialsky’s application. The review board tabled the vote to its February 14 meeting. On Monday, Mr. Bialsky announced he would be scaling down one of the three proposed townhouse units in an effort to gain more support for the project from the review board.

“I find that the burden of carrying this board and all the things associated with it was losing me sleep,” Mr. Brandt said in an interview Thursday. “So I thought that I was going to stay until the end of this application and once that was done, I would then feel like I’d fulfilled that responsibility. However, it looks now like that’s going to go on for a very long time, with the changes that [Mr. Bialsky] is making to the third building.”

Mr. Brandt, who is 82 years old, continued, “I have other work I need to do. As you get older, you get conscious of the time you have left. You don’t know what it is, but you don’t want to waste it. I’ve done a lot of service to the village over the years, and I think I’ve fulfilled my civic duties.”

He declined to discuss any specifics of Mr. Bialsky’s townhouse project on Thursday.

A copy of Mr. Brandt’s resignation letter obtained Tuesday from Sag Harbor Village via Freedom of Information request was heavily redacted. The only information shown in the letter was Mr. Brandt’s desire to spend more time working on a new book.

A copy of the letter obtained Wednesday by The Express revealed Mr. Brandt departed the review board with criticism of the Sag Harbor Village Board along with a call to improve laws that govern house sizes in the village, known as the gross-floor area (GFA) rules.

“One of the main problems the architectural review board has faced during my tenure has been the too-generous nature of the GFA,” Mr. Brandt wrote. “…I would hope the village look again at the GFA in Sag Harbor, and cut it to size.”

He also criticized the board’s decision to rescind the part of the 2016 changes to the GFA law that originally mandated residents and developers seek special permits from the village board for houses to be built at 4,000 square feet or more.

“…Every application, no matter the size, fell to the board to decide,” Mr. Brandt wrote. “There are few such building applications in the village, but when they appear they sometimes create controversies about the very nature of the village and its future.”

Citing Mr. Bialsky’s 2 West Water Street proposal as an example, Mr. Brandt asserted that “applications of this nature should not be left in the hands of an unpaid, unelected board of citizen volunteers.” He said the village as a whole should make a decision on such a big project, for instance by referendum.

“Failing that,” he wrote, “it at least belongs with the village board, and I’m hoping, for the sake of future board members of the architectural review board, you will reconsider your decision to leave applications like these in their hands, and not your own. You are elected, you are paid. It should be your responsibility.”

Village Clerk Beth Kamper said in a email Wednesday that large portions of the letter were redacted because they do not contain statistical or factual information or material that affects the public or is related to legal or policy outcomes. They “constitute opinions or recommendations of Mr. Brandt and not final policy determinations and therefore may be withheld” under the state Freedom Of Information Law, Ms. Kamper said.

Mayor Sandra Schroeder on Wednesday thanked Mr. Brandt for “all his good work” on the board. “He’s wonderful and we owe him a great debt of gratitude for all he’s done for the village,” she said.

She declined to comment on the contents of his resignation letter, saying simply, “he expressed a lot of his opinions.”

Mr. Brandt said in an interview he has made a recommendation to the Sag Harbor Board of Trustees for which sitting board member he believes should be his successor, but declined to identify which board member he suggested.

According to Elizabeth Vail, a village attorney who advises the review board, deputy chair Bethany Deyermond will run board meetings until the village trustees appoint a new chair. The village board will also need to formally accept Mr. Brandt’s resignation at its February 12 meeting, Ms. Vail said, and will have to find a new review board member or elevate Judith Long, its alternate, to full member status.

Ms. Vail also said because Ms. Deyermond was absent from the last review board meeting, she will have to “come up to speed” by reviewing the minutes and recording pertaining to 2 West Water Street if she wants to vote on that project.

When Mr. Brandt served his first four-year term on the board in the late 1980s, Sag Harbor had only just established itself as a “certified local government” under New York State Office of Historic Preservation guidelines. That action, which Mr. Brandt said was buoyed by the efforts of then-village clerk Joan Sheehan and the support of Mayor George Butts, formally established the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review and gave it authority to make decisions on building applications, rather than simply act in an advisory fashion, as a similar committee had been doing previously.

But in those days, Sag Harbor was a simpler, saltier village.

“It’s much different now,” said Mr. Brandt, who returned in 2016 at the request of the two candidates running for mayor that year, Sandra Schroeder and Robby Stein.

“There are many more applications,” he said. “They’re bigger in the sense that people want more and at that time, all those years ago, 30 years ago, Sag Harbor was not as fashionable as it has become. Being fashionable is the worst thing that can happen to a resort. It tends to ruin them. They lose their local populations.”

Acknowledging there has been much turnover on the village’s regulatory boards over the last few months, Mr. Brandt said he hopes the other current board members continue to serve. He also said he hopes Ms. Long is appointed as a full member from her position as an alternate.

And he offered some advice to future board members, whomever the village may choose to appoint down the road if vacancies do pop up.

“I would say get training, which is provided free of charge by the state,” Mr. Brandt said. “I would say remember that you’re independent. Stay tough.”