The first volleys of a coming courtroom showdown rumbled through the Sag Harbor Municipal Building on Tuesday when Alex Kriegsman, the lawyer pushing for variances so his client Mark Madden can remodel a house at 11 Carver Street to make it taller, stunned the Zoning Board of Appeals by canceling concessions his client has made over the past year to satisfy the board and neighbors, telling the board instead to go back to the plan for the house in his original application filed in May, 2018.
“I find it disturbing being asked to talk to the neighbors rather than consider New York State law and the village code,” Mr. Kriegsman told the board. It wasn’t “reasonable, feasible or appropriate,” he said, later asserting it was “illegal for us to be told we have to get input from neighbors.”
“You were asked to talk to them; that’s fine,” said board member Susan Mead, as a group of neighbors in the audience shook their heads, murmuring that no one had spoken to them about the plan.
Mr. Kriegsman said modifications to plans made over the past year for the pool and garage would remain in effect.
Also, at its September 17 meeting, the board granted “sky plane” variances to legalize a concrete house that looms over its neighbors at 8 Wilson Place in the Ninevah community after having been built according to “erroneous architectural plans,” according to the board’s decision. It was one of at least two cases Tuesday involving construction that violated the zoning code and required variances after the fact to legalize them.
The board also tabled the application of the Schiavoni family’s VACS Enterprises, LLC for multiple variances to build a three-story retail and office building with a cupola at 31 Long Island Avenue, the site of an aging retail structure that was demolished as part of National Grid’s project to decontaminate the neighboring site of gas manufacturing plant later occupied by a gas storage sphere. The board has questions for the building inspector that it wants answered before proceeding with the case.
In the case of 11 Carver Street, the proposal’s 8,274-cubic-foot penetration into the “sky plane” of the village’s pyramid law, which restricts building heights to below a 45-degree slope from the property line, “would probably be the largest pyramid variance ever granted since I’ve been on the board,” chair Tim McGuire told Mr. Kriegsman in July, 2018, when the board opened its hearing on the controversial case, which neighbors have opposed as out of character with the neighborhood.
The 8,274-cubic-foot total sky plan penetration includes the violation at the existing house of 3,036 cubic yards; the applications seeks an additional variance of 5,238 cubic feet.
When board member Susan Mead asked Mr. Kriegsman why his client’s concessions were now “out the window,” he laid out a case touching on the state’s standards for granting variances.
“We had extension discussions … about seeking less relief but we are here seeking relief for the original application for the reasons that we’ve discussed,” he said. “It’s our view there’s no undesirable change in the neighborhood. This is a beautiful house that will have a positive impact on the community. It is not something that can be sought by other means. This is a unique and narrow property … and the proposed renovation will have a positive impact on the physical, environmental conditions. It’s not self-created. This is the way the property exists, and you have granted more substantial variances on November 17 ,2015, at 27 Harding Street you gave 8,196 cubic feet and on August 21, 2018, at 47 Terry you gave 5,664 cubic feet.”
He lashed out at neighbors who once again spoke against the proposal Tuesday, saying they spoke on behalf of many neighbors who were not present. “It’s inappropriate to stand up and read a letter from someone else,” much less 20 other people, Mr. Kriegsman said, adding “all these letters” that have been submitted in opposition “are not about the application” and the specific standards to be applied to variance applications as specified in state law.
Addressing one of the neighbors who spoke against the application, Ms. Mead said, “I think Mr. Kriegsman has misstated the fact that … he expected us to follow everything that the neighborhood was projecting.”
“We have factors we have to consider,” she added, “and if you all wanted no variances, we probably would not agree with that.”
“I thought perhaps he could get some input from you all and we could then make a proper judgment on the impact to the neighborhood …” she said. “I’m sorry he’s withdrawn the compromises that he made but we don’t always follow the neighborhood, just so you know.”
When Mr. Kriegsman, summing up, said it had been “inappropriate and illegal for us to be told you want input from the neighbors rather than consider the factors under the code,” Ms. Mead replied, “We never said that, for the record.”
“I think what you said is very clear on the record,” Mr. Kriegsman answered. “You said it a few times.”
“It’s terminology and maybe you guys disagree on the terminology,” Mr. McGuire said.
“We were trying to help you,” Ms. Mead said.
“I have a hard time believing that,” Mr. Kriegsman said.
“Well, let’s not go there,” said Mr. McGuire.
“Well, I’m going to go there, Mr. McGuire,” replied Mr. Kriegsman, “because I’m representing my client as a zealous advocate and when I have a board member three times talk about the importance of input from the public, I have an objection to that I’m noting for the record.”
Mr. McGuire was not present for much of the board’s review of the application last year, as former village trustee Robbie Stein chaired the board while Mr. McGuire dealt with a medical issue.