By Douglas Feiden
Thumbs-up for the conversion of the old, derelict and graffiti-scarred G.F. Schiavoni Plumbing and Heating building at 64 Jermain Avenue into four luxury, townhouse-style condominium units, each with its own private garden and pool.
But thumbs-down for the installation of solar panels atop a pair of homes at 26 Howard Street and 15 Garden Street in the village’s historic district — along with an unmistakable signal that similar projects, if visible to passers-by or neighbors, would also be nixed.
The Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review took steps at its public meeting on Thursday, January 28 to resolve two major issues that will impact Sag Harbor’s future: It conditionally approved a development project at the dilapidated former factory — and separately, made clear that observable solar-power panels in the historic core would probably face a red light.
Built around 1900 and used variously as an engraving shop and an annex building for the Bulova Watchcase factory, the long-vacant plumbing complex is a two-story, red brick-and-concrete structure which its owners, 64 Jermain LLC, plan to restore and reinvent as high-end duplex condos, which would be as small as 2,500 square feet and as large as 3,500 square feet.
No one would have to mow the lawn, fret about parking or hunt for a personal trainer. A caretaker would watch over the property; each unit would have indoor and outdoor parking spaces and an outdoor patio; a shared area, “The Pavilion,” would offer a yoga room, exercise room and gym, and the owners would enjoy private rooftop access, shaded by a field of towering birch trees.
Only one thing seemed to bother the ARB. Board member Dean Gomolka was concerned about the landscaping on the property’s perimeter, and he raised an issue seldom aired at village board meetings: The eternal slumber of the souls in Oakland Cemetery a few yards away.
“You have all these headlights,” he said. “You just might wake up the graveyard.”
Co-developer David Silverstein, the project’s contractor and one of two principals in 64 Jermain LLC, acknowledged the need to provide better landscaped screening, saying, “Your concern is that the headlights might wake up our neighbors in Oakland.”
Otherwise, the board was enthusiastic. “I love it,” said Anthony Brandt, the ARB chairman. “I wish I could live there myself.” Board member John C. Connor echoed that sentiment.
The ARB then granted a conditional approval of the developer’s application for a Certificate of Appropriateness, which is needed to obtain village building permits, dependent on the acceptance of a more detailed landscaping-and-screening plan.
“We’re pretty much ready to go,” said Markus Dochantschi, the project architect, co-principal and co-developer. “This was one of our last steps with the village.”
The project had earlier passed muster with Sag Harbor’s Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board. With the ARB signing on, final approvals from the Harbor Committee and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services would mark the end of a two-year-long process.
No exemption is needed from the village moratorium on major residential projects since the freeze applies only to single-family homes, not a condo project made up of multi-family dwellings, said Village Attorney Fred W. Thiele Jr.
Mr. Dochantschi hopes to break ground in April 2016, complete most construction by mid- or late-2017 and open after input from buyers on the build-out of their interior spaces.
“This is a building with incredibly good bones,” he said. “We are restoring the factory and incorporating all of the existing features of the envelope, not creating something that looks like a factory.”
Meanwhile, the ARB made a second consequential decision when it denied two applications from homeowner Caroline Hackney for the proposed installation of solar-panel systems on the roofs of her family’s neighboring houses on Howard and Garden Streets.
Board deciders first expressed a touch of sorrow at their pending action: “We all believe in solar panels,” said Mr. Brandt.
But the ARB cited online guidelines from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for rehabilitating historic buildings or buildings in historic districts that say solar devices shouldn’t be installed in locations where they would be visible to neighbors or from a street or other public right-of-way.
Federal standards say such installations “negatively impact” the character of a historic district and are not recommend, and the ARB said it had no choice but to hew to those guideposts.
That was a relief to Aidan and Louise Corish, who live across the street at 23 Howard Street.
“The historic integrity of our village might be able to withstand one visible solar array, but precedent is an insidious foe,” they wrote to the board. “Once one installation visible from the street is approved, how can others be denied? Our delightful view sheds of juxtaposed roof lines would become a hideous hall of mirrors.”
In an interview, Ms. Hackney said she will continue to seek solar solutions, compared the energy issue to the “hole in the ozone layer in Chile” and said it poses a real and pressing problem that demands the immediate attention of the village.
“If we do not come out of this ancient time bubble, a charming, historic village like Sag Harbor, as we know it, will be prohibitive and no longer sustainable,” she said.