Harbor Committee Weighs in on Portion of Jermain Avenue Condo Proposal

A rendering of the proposed condo project at the old G.F. Schiavoni building on Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.
A rendering of the proposed condo project at the old G.F. Schiavoni building on Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.
A rendering of the proposed condo project at the old G.F. Schiavoni building on Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.

By Douglas Feiden

The protection of a wild 3.8-acre tract of wetlands behind the old derelict G.F. Schiavoni Plumbing and Heating factory at 64 Jermain Avenue has become the latest focus of the village’s long review of the proposed conversion of the complex into four, ultra-luxe townhouse-style condominiums units, each with its own private garden and pool.

At a Harbor Committee meeting on Monday night, the board took up a wetlands permit application from the developer to construct a one-story accessory structure — dubbed “The Pavilion” — that would be shared by condo owners who could enjoy a yoga studio, exercise-and-wellness room, gym, deck area and reflecting pond.

Committee members have no jurisdiction over the site’s uplands, where owners 64 Jermain LLC plan to restore and reinvent the long-vacant, two-story, brick-and-concrete plumbing complex into high-end duplex condos, with each unit boasting an outdoor patio, indoor and outdoor parking and private rooftop access shaded by a field of towering birch trees.

But the committee’s oversight jurisdiction, which extends 150 feet landward of the wetlands boundary, includes The Pavilion, which is located 95 feet from the wetlands at its closest point, as well as the shallow reflecting pool, associated landscaping, underground propane tank, dry well, decking and drainage structures. And it includes the wetlands itself, which was designated a conservation easement under the development plan.

A jungle-like space with swampy patches, it drops down sharply from the graffiti-scarred factory complex, which was built around 1900 and used variously as an engraving shop and an annex building for the Bulova Watchcase plant.

Scenic vistas of the woodsy site will be a draw for future owners: “People will have serene views of the wetlands from the Pavilion,” said co-developer and project contractor David Silverstein, who is a principal of 64 Jermain LLC.

Rich Warren, the Harbor Committee’s environmental consultant, said the permit application appeared “pretty straightforward” and compliant.

But Anita Guarino, a neighbor who lives around the corner from the project on Joel’s Lane, argued there was nothing either serene or straightforward about the project’s environmental impact.

“I have a hard time imagining any activity that wouldn’t negatively impact the already abused wetlands adjoining 64 Jermain Avenue,”
Ms. Guarino said in an impassioned address to the board.

“Sag Harbor residents whose grandparents were Sag Harbor residents have related stories about toxic chemicals having been buried there years ago. During my relatively brief, 30-year commitment to this community, I have witnessed this protected wetland being used as a dumping ground for refuse.”

Mr. Guarino said the “hobbled ecosystem” would have no chance of recovering in light of the “further trauma” planned for the site, which she said included run-off from four swimming pools and pool decks, outdoor showers, new sod and landscaping, plus the Pavilion itself.

She said it was critical to investigate and remediate past dumping, and said metal detectors could be used to chart the whereabouts of pollutants.

But Dennis Downes, the developers’ attorney, countered that debris from the uplands side of the property, like beds and washing machines, had already been cleared out, and no “definitive evidence” had ever been presented suggesting dumping had taken place in the wetlands proper.

“There is no more cleanup to be done,” Mr. Downes said. “You can’t just go in there with metal detectors because you can’t walk through it. You’d have to cut holes through the woods until you find something, which means that you have holes and paths going all over the place.

“You’re destroying the wetlands, and nobody’s going to do that,” he added.

But dumping in the wetlands behind old industrial sites is hardly unknown in Sag Harbor, said Harbor Committee board member Joseph Tremblay. He cited the former Rowe Industries property on the Turnpike, a federal Superfund site fouled by a plume of contaminants that required a decade-plus of mitigation.

“It’s not preposterous to think that something similar could have happened here,” Mr. Tremblay said. “It makes you think that maybe there’s something to it.”

In part to address those concerns and protect the wetlands further, the Harbor Committee, which closed the public hearing,
asked the developer to move the propane tank and an irrigation well, and present a landscape plan for the area 75-to-150 feet away from the boundary of the wetlands.

“We require a minimum 50-foot buffer from the wetlands, and they’re providing a 75-foot buffer, which is more,” said Harbor Committee Chairman John Shaka said in an interview. “But because of the possibility of ecological consequences, we asked them to come back and explain how they would landscape beyond the 75-foot buffer.”