Development Pressure Grows in Azurest, Sag Harbor Hills and Ninevah

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Attorney Brian DeSesa speaking at the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Tuesday. Peter Boody photo

After a meeting between neighbors and the builder of a proposed house on the waterfront in Azurest, the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals now appears poised to approve variances to clear the way for a new, larger structure at 47 Terry Drive.

Meanwhile, in another case involving redevelopment in neighboring Sag Harbor Hills, the board chairman threw cold water on a proposal to tear down a modest 1940s house and replace it with something much larger 15 feet from its front property lines.

In the Azurest case, a modest and compact one-story house currently stands on the small waterfront parcel. Residents praised the board for having suggested last month that owner George Spadoro meet with members of the historically African-American communities of Azurest, Sag Harbor Hills and Ninevah, known collectively as SANS, to go over his plans.

Many residents fear that “zoning creep,” as one speaker called it at Tuesday’s continuation of the board’s hearing on the plan, is eroding the character of their formerly modest waterfront community.

“It’s not just about this house. It’s about others that are going to follow,” said Michael Pierce, who lives across the street.

As originally proposed, the structure would have protruded into the “sky plane” required by the village’s “pyramid” height law by about 7,200 cubic feet. As revised, it will protrude by 6,080 cubic feet.

The roofline of the existing house is 14 feet above grade. The proposed height of the new structure would be 19.6 feel above grade including two stories, one of which will be partly below grade. Brian DeSesa, attorney for Mr. Spadoro, said there are a number of redeveloped houses on Terry Drive that have two stories.

Residents expressed muted appreciation Tuesday for Mr. Spadoro’s modifications, but they challenged his lawyer’s assertion that he had “given up” plans for a swimming pool. “He can’t give up what he never had,” one speaker said.

The board closed the hearing on the application Tuesday and informally agreed the plans should be modified even further with a reduction in ceiling height to nine feet. The case was held over to next month’s meeting for revised plans.

“I’m not here to say I oppose” the application, said Mr. Pierce, “but I don’t totally support it.” The board “has to decide what’s too much,” he added.

Ray Redhead, who has a house next door, said he liked the plans and had “zero problems whatsoever.”

Renee Simons, a community activist who has helped lead the effort to win a national historic district designation for the SANS communities, said it was “important not to set any precedent.”

“Once it’s allowed,” she said of the proposal’s inclusion of a 36-inch-high “parapet” on the roof to hide mechanicals, “it’s going to be, ‘well, I want one too.’” She worried that it could be converted to a rooftop deck.

“These non-conforming lots get overdeveloped because there don’t seem to be any restrictions,” commented Will Sharp. He noted the proposal still impinges on the village’s pyramid law and that it “changes the fabric of the community” when people assume they can always obtain variances from the ZBA.

Michael Williams, president of the Azurest Property Owners Association, thanked the board “for asking George Spadoro to talk with us and consult with us before this meeting.” He said it was “a unique thing for us to do as a home owners association.”

“We are concerned about zoning creep,” he declared. “A lot of time and effort has been invested in creating the code and it does seem that codes are overridden by personal want.” He said the neighborhood was moving toward becoming “a very upscale and attractive seaside community like those in California.”

“I hope you pay attention” to variance applications that don’t weigh actual need versus mere “want.”

“We have to decide this one here today,” Mr. McGuire replied. “Are you okay with the changes?”

Mr. Williams questioned why the parapet had to be three feet high. Any lower and it wouldn’t hide the mechanicals, Mr. DeSesa said.

On another front, the board — after registering some resistance to the proposal — agreed to continue the hearing next month on plans for another property in the SANS area, 11 Gull Rock Road in the Sag Harbor Hills community.

Applicant Bruce Bronster wants to construct a new residence on the property in a location that will require two front-yard setback variances on the corner lot at Hillside Drive East.

The proposal to tear down the modest house from the 1940s that stands there now and replace it with a much larger structure has been conditionally approved by the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, according to Mr. Bronster’s attorney for the case, Mr. DeSesa, who presented the application.

Board Chairman McGuire, noting the proposed house will contain six to seven bedrooms, said it “could be built on this piece of land” in such a way that “it wouldn’t require any variances” and it could still be “a huge house. I wouldn’t vote for it.”

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”