Developer to Scale Down Part of West Water Street Townhouse Plan

Developer Jay Bialsky makes his case to the board over his proposed condominiums at 2 West Water Street during the Sag Harbor Architectural Review Board meeting in village hall on Thursday evening, 1/24/19. Michael Heller photo

In an effort to gain more support for his proposed West Water Street townhouses from Sag Harbor’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, developer Jay Bialsky has announced he is scaling down the height and size of one of the proposed buildings.

“I think what I’m about to propose will hopefully be the positive deciding factor for a majority vote in favor of my project,” Mr. Bialsky said Monday.

His move comes after the review board split 2-2 on whether or not to approve the plan in a straw vote on January 24. A fifth member, David Berridge, did not vote because he needed to review the full record of the application. He was recently appointed to the board.

Mr. Bialsky said he will be scaling back proposed condo unit three, a 7,627-square-foot unit that will stand alone in a building closest to the water. Its size was a subject of criticism at the review board’s meeting on Thursday.

The new effort to scale down the project is at least Mr. Bialsky’s fourth revision. The entire proposal initially contained 27,740 square feet of gross floor area. In September, it was brought down to 26,077 square feet and in November it was reduced to just below 24,000 square feet. The developer did not say by how much unit three will be reduced because it was still under development.

“The roof will be lower and the massing will be smaller than previously and presently proposed,” Mr. Bialsky said, noting it’s “too early” to tell whether any amenities will have to be sacrificed in unit three to accommodate the changes.

No changes are proposed to the street-front building that will contain condo units one and two.

“I want the community to know that I’ve done the right thing, and I believe in my heart of hearts that there is no developer who would take this much square footage of a reduction,” said Mr. Bialsky, who under current zoning could build approximately 63,000 square feet of space combined on his properties, which include the adjacent lot at 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road — the anticipated future site of the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park.

Reached by phone Monday, Anthony Brandt, chairman of the review board, said he could not comment on Mr. Bialsky’s latest move other than to say “it’s a wait-and-see” situation.

“I really don’t know how the board is going to react,” Mr. Brandt said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Brandt said he resigned from the review board “effective immediately,” but declined to make any further comments.

On Wednesday, Jayne Young, a board member of Save Sag Harbor, which has been advocating for developers to provide clearer models of major projects in the village and which actually produced a model of Mr. Bialsky’s townhouses on its own, said the group generally agreed with Mr. Brandt’s “wait-and-see” approach.

Because the review board closed the public hearing last Thursday, the community may not have the chance to comment on the updated proposal, unless the board takes a vote to reopen the public hearing. Reductions in the plan’s square footage do not require a new hearing.

During last Thursday’s meeting, Mr. Brandt and Judith Long, the board’s alternate member, were opposed to the project in the straw poll. John “Chris” Connor and Dean Gomolka were in favor. Member Bethany Deyermond was absent.

The board ultimately tabled the application for a full vote at its February 14 meeting.

At last Thursday’s board meeting, each straw vote came with an explanation.

“I really appreciate everything Mr. Bialsky has done. He has modified the project, he has split it up … but to me that’s still too big,” Mr. Brandt said. “I can’t approve it.”

Ms. Long said she liked parts of the townhouse proposal, but took issue with the third unit, the one set back farthest from the street and proposed as a white brick structure. “I appreciate all the effort that has gone into the negotiating,” she said. “But my final thought on the whole thing is that coming over the bridge that is going to be a big thing to look at, so I’m going to vote no.”

Mr. Connor said his “yes” vote came with the acknowledgment that the current structure on the site, known as the “1-800 Lawyers” building, is an eyesore. “Nothing’s quaint about this building right now,” he said. “That means that I will vote yes.”

Mr. Gomolka said he feels the project has “come a long way.”

“We started from some monstrosity,” he said. “This applicant has come way down, split up the building, and instead of 13 units, we have three. … This is much better. I appreciate it. I’m a yes.”

Mr. Berridge acknowledged he had only just received previous meetings’ recordings that day and said he was still in the process of reviewing the full record.

“I want to vote for a successful building here because the waterfront needs to be vibrant … it needs to be activated,” he said. “… We owe it to the village to do our best work.”

Last Thursday, before the review board closed the public hearing, Mr. Brandt asked Bob Weinstein, a Save Sag Harbor board member, whether the group had an official stance. Mr. Weinstein said it did not.

“The reason we weren’t able to say who was in favor and who was opposed is because it’s such a mixed bag,” he said. “There are so many different components.”

Mr. Weinstein said speaking only for himself, he’s “really in the middle.”

“I truly don’t know the answer. Who cares what I think, to be honest with you,” he said, drawing laughter from the standing-room-only crowd. “It’s a tough one. If it were possible in an ideal world, we’d sit down together and ask for it to be made a little bit smaller.”

But on Wednesday, another Save Sag Harbor board member, Myrna Davis, speaking on behalf the group, said she believed it had accomplished its goal of bringing more clarity to the visual presentation of the townhouse project.

“Save Sag Harbor believes it essential that proposals before the village boards be transparently and accurately presented so that they can be fully understood, especially with regard to large projects of significant visual and social impact,” she said. Referring to the group’s 3D animated model, she said, “…We are gratified that it, along with the [review board’s] requirement for a physical model, has led to ongoing improvements by the applicant’s design team.”