Hearing Set on Plan to Make Methodist Church Building a Residential Arts Center

Sag Harbor Planning Board chair Kay P. Lawson at the Nov. 26, 2019 meeting.

After formally finding that it will have no significant impacts on the environment, a required step under the state’s environmental review law, the Sag Harbor Planning Board last week set a public hearing on artists Eric Fischl and April Gornik’s plan to convert the former Methodist Church at 48 Madison Street into a residential educational arts center for December 16 at 5:30 p.m.

The procedural step indicates the artists soon will have dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s required by the board in its review so far of their application for special-exception-use and site plan approval, allowing the board to solicit public comment and then make a decision.

The step comes a year and a half after the couple purchased the 1835 building, which the Methodist congregation left in 2008, for $7 million. By that time, the previous owner had long abandoned a planned conversion of the structure into a grand residence partway through the process.

The proposed art center falls within the definition of special exception uses allowed by the zoning code in the R-20 residential zone as a “philanthropic, fraternal, social, educational institutional office or meeting room, nonprofit.”

Among the board’s requests before the hearing takes place is submission of an analysis of the proposal’s conformance with the steps that must be met before the planners can approve any special exception use. They include determining that the lot area is adequate; that the use “will be in harmony with” the comprehensive plan; and that it will “not prevent the orderly and reasonable” of adjacent properties.

Also at their Tuesday, November 26 monthly meeting, the planners declared there would be no environmental impact from a proposed lot-line change and land transfer among three small parcels at 23 Suffolk Street that “clears up a weird jag line by making it straight” and links established backyard uses with the correct properties, said the applicant’s attorney, Brian DeSesa. The lots formerly were all owned by the same family. Now that one has been sold, backyard access and use “becomes an issue,” he said.

The case will have to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals because of the reduction in the size of one of the lots and the increase in its lot coverage ratio.

A plan to convert a single-family house into a two-unit office building at the corner of Division and Rector Streets got a cool response from planners at the meeting. The plan would increase the site’s required off-street parking from 24 spaces to 27, with only eight available, board member Larry Perrine noted. “This is the tightest place in the whole village” in terms of density, he added.

The quarter-acre property, the address of which is 51 Division Street, contains at least six uses: the Windswept salon, the UPS store, Jack’s coffee, the Sag Harbor Bakery, a storage garage and the single-family house. A previous proposal first aired in 2018 called for converting the garage as well as the house into office use; that plan has been dropped.

Attorney Brian DeSesa said “grandfathered” parking rights for the property reduced the off-street deficit to three spaces. The UPS store, a tenant in the complex, will be leaving for a new location down the street, eliminating the need for UPS trucks to park and restrict flow on the property, he told the board. He said the owner couldn’t rent the apartment because of noise “from across the street,” where there is a summer bar scene.

The board’s concerns “are real and have been vocalized,” board chair Kay P. Lawson told him.

During a work session before the regular meeting, the board also expressed skepticism about a tentative proposal to subdivide a less-than-half acre — and therefore non-conforming — parcel at the corner of Hempstead and Liberty Streets into two lots, one containing an existing circa 1890 house fronting on Liberty Street.

The applicant has said the proposal was encouraged by the village’s Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board as an alternative to his plan to renovate and enlarge the existing house “to well over twice the existing GFA (gross floor area) as of right.”

But the board’s planning consultant Kathy Eiseman said, and board members appeared to agree, that a subdivision would be “inconsistent with the comprehensive plan” because it would create two non-conforming lots in the R-20 zone where there is now only one,  and it would increase the intensity of the property’s use by putting two houses where there is now one.

Ms. Eiseman told the applicant’s attorney, Brian DeSesa, that the proposal would have to be changed to mitigate its potential impacts or the board would have to a make “positive declaration” under the state’s Environmental Quality Review Act, which would trigger a requirement for an expensive and time-consuming environmental impact study.