Moving Toward Rebuilding on Former Sag Harbor Superfund Site

31 Long Island Avenue as seen in April of 2019. Christine Sampson photo

Diane Schiavoni said she and her husband, Gabe, sat in the Sag Harbor Municipal Building meeting room on April 23 with excitement as the village’s planning board voted on the outcome of an environmental study of a proposed new building on the property the Schiavonis’ children own at 31 Long Island Avenue.

That outcome was a “negative declaration” affirming that the two-story, mixed-use building planned for the property — once a Superfund site — did not have the potential to have any adverse impacts on its surroundings as outlined under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act.

“That’s an excellent thing,” Ms. Schiavoni said this week. “We were very pleased with their reaction. They were very supportive. We are very anxious to get going.”

The previous building, which had housed five retail stores, was demolished in 2008 as part of a larger cleanup effort at the neighboring KeySpan manufactured gas plant. The Schiavoni property, formally owned by a limited liability corporation called VACS Enterprises, has since received a clean bill of health.

Plans for a new structure have gone through various iterations over the years, including a proposal in 2017 that included apartments on a third floor. The project has since been scaled down and the current proposal is for a two-story building with four retail spaces on the first floor and four offices on the second floor. Ms. Schiavoni — who, along with Mr. Schiavoni, manages the property on behalf of their children — called the 2017 plan “great” but said “after a family discussion, we thought it would be better to take the third story off.”

“It would need more variances, and it’s a lot more money to do the third floor with apartments,” she said. “We thought it would be easier to fast-track it. We didn’t ask for this building to be taken down.”

According to documents on file with the Sag Harbor Building Department, the retail stores on the first floor would range in size from 644 to 1,300 square feet. The offices would range in size from 960 to 1,075 square feet. Both levels would have a lobby, restrooms, a corridor, maintenance and sprinkler rooms, elevator and stairways. A small third story would only top out the staircase to the roof.

The property is located in the village’s office district, meaning that proposed retail uses may not be permitted under village code. However, a 2008 memo from then-village attorney Fred W. Thiele Jr. specified that the property owners are “entitled to construct an identical replacement of the building and retail uses without any additional approvals from the village.” As the VACS Enterprises planning application does not specify what types of retail will be housed in the new building, a memo from Nelson, Pope and Voorhis, the village’s environmental and planning consultants, says a “special exception use permit” may be required from the planning board depending on the types of store that lease the spaces.

The project may also need a few variances from the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals, according to the Nelson, Pope and Voorhis memo — including a variance for several parking spaces beyond what is previously “grandfathered” to the property — though the variances have not been publicly identified yet.

The Sag Harbor Planning Board discussion on April 23 yielded a snag that VACS Enterprises may have to overcome. Attorney Dennis Downes, representing the applicant, told the board they will be applying for a new curb cut for access onto the property that allows them to add a handicap parking stall and space for a dumpster. However, according to planning board consultant Kathy Eiseman and attorney Denise Schoen, doing so would take away as many as six on-street parking spaces on Long Island Avenue. Ms. Eiseman asked Mr. Downes to petition village officials to designate a handicap parking stall on the street in front of the proposed building, which would eliminate the need to do a new curb cut.

“I think everyone would be happier with it,” Ms. Eiseman said.

“We were just concerned the trustees may not approve of the loss of six spaces on the street,” Ms. Schoen added.

Mr. Downes said he believed the spaces were created only after the Schiavonis’ original building was torn down.

“It’s something everyone’s gotten used to” since the demolition, Mr. Downes said.

In addition to site plan approval from the planning board and variances from the zoning board, VACS Enterprises — which draws its name from the first initials of the Schiavonis’ four grandchildren — will also need approval from the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review. The process has the potential to take a few more months.

Ms. Schiavoni, who said she loves Sag Harbor and said “we’ve devoted our whole lives to this village,” called the new plans “quite nice.”

“We’re looking forward to digging into the ground and starting the project,” she said.