By Christine Sampson
The Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday granted the Brown Harris Stevens real estate firm permission to temporarily occupy the Gingerbread House at 133 Main Street in Sag Harbor for one year after its own office space down the street was ravaged by the December 16 fire.
The decision was met with applause from about 20 Brown Harris Stevens agents and employees at Tuesday’s meeting.
The variance provides an exemption from the 2009 update to code that prohibits offices on the first floor of commercial buildings in the village business district, unless they are preexisting.
“I don’t really have a major issue here, but in terms of the hardship side, is there demonstration of the hardship,” asked Karl Kaiser after ZBA chairman Tim McGuire opened the discussion.
Economic damage to the business and the village itself were cited by Brown Harris Stevens attorney Tiffany Scarlato as hardships should the firm not be able to relocate while its former office is rebuilt.
“As a year-round resident of Sag Harbor, I am fully supportive of this whole variance,” said George Rutgers, whose business, JANGEORGe, is a stone’s throw from the Gingerbread House. “But also, as a retail owner in town, it is very important that it is a temporary thing and at the end it will be turned back into a retail space, because I think that’s what we need instead of offices.”
Lisa Field, the owner of the Sag Harbor Variety Store and president of the Chamber of Commerce, lobbied for the variance. She said other business owners are feeling the loss of the real estate company’s presence in the village, too. She pointed out the long history Brown Harris Stevens has in the village.
“It is not just some new business coming in asking you to change the code just so they can make a quick buck,” she said.
The ZBA unanimously approved the variance, determining that it could do so and still “preserve and protect the character of the neighborhood and the health, safety and welfare of the community.”
A structural engineer recently deemed the company’s office at 96 Main Street able to be rehabilitated instead of torn down. Ms. Scarlato said the building’s owner expected the renovations to be completed in about a year, and Mr. McGuire noted during the meeting it may be possible for Brown Harris Stevens to return to the ZBA for an extension if another month or two were needed while renovations are completed.
“We’re elated. As a company, we are so happy the agents now have a home they can temporarily call their office and get back to work in Sag Harbor, where they’re all from,” Robert Nelson, senior managing director of Brown Harris Stevens said on Wednesday. “When they voted yes, there were cheers and applause and people had tears in their eyes. It was a really wonderful moment.”