New Cinema Plans Get Nod from Zoning Board

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Allen Kopelson, the architect working on the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, explains the new addition. Christine Sampson photo

Having cleared its regulatory hurdles before Sag Harbor Village’s planning, zoning and architectural review boards earlier this year, the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center has launched a sequel to that process — with revised building plans showing a new addition to a third story that would accommodate virtual reality programs, offices and an outdoor terrace.

On Thursday, December 20, the Sag Harbor Planning Board will review the project’s updated site plan. That hearing is scheduled for the board’s regular meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m. in the second floor meeting room of the Municipal Building at 55 Main Street.

Last Thursday, the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review set a public hearing for the new cinema plans for January 10 at 5 p.m. at the start of its regular meeting, in the same location.

On Tuesday, two representatives of the cinema returned to the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals to seek new variances and re-approval of those the ZBA had previously granted. The cinema essentially had to start the ZBA process all over again, requesting side and rear yard variances that had already been granted. Updated floor area and height variances, because the proposed addition would increase what was previously okayed, were the primary focus of the ZBA’s attention Tuesday.

The cinema wants to add 1,220 square feet of interior space and a 600-square-foot roof deck to the plan, bringing the total square footage of the building to 12,049 square feet. The maximum size of a building in the village’s business district is limited by code to 3,000 square feet, so a variance of 9,049 square feet has been requested. The cinema also wants to raise the height of the building to 38.5 feet, up from 35 feet, which is the maximum height of buildings allowed in the business district.

Architect Allen Kopelson on Tuesday told the ZBA the proposed change in height is due to two factors. Not only do virtual reality spaces require taller-than-usual ceilings, he said, but the building’s first floor is also being raised by 1.5 feet to keep it well above the high water table below the building.

“That will relieve any problems that we have with future flooding, we hope,” he said, referencing the previous cinema building’s moldy smell and attributing it partly to water that seeped in from underneath the building’s foundation.

Asked the function of the roof deck, Mr. Kopelson said it would likely be used as a space for fundraisers.

“One of the things that’s going to make this successful is we’re going to have to do some serious fundraising every year,” he said. “Having this outdoor space would allow us to really have a wonderful space to have a gathering.”

April Gornik, vice president of the Sag Harbor Partnership, which is rebuilding the cinema, said Wednesday, “It’s part and parcel of it being a not-for-profit exercise.”

“I think everyone hopes the cinema will be able to be largely profitable, but we are a not for-profit enterprise,” she said. “We are certainly looking to make things as successful as possible, to mitigate our fundraising needs.”

The board agreed in a straw poll to grant not only the variances it had previously approved, but also the new ones. The board closed the hearing and tabled the cinema application to a future meeting pending a written decision from its attorney.

Board member Susan Mead recused herself from the discussion and the informal poll because she is the treasurer of the Sag Harbor Partnership. The board’s new alternate member, Hamil Willoughby, sat in on the discussion but did not take part because he had not been formally sworn in by the village clerk yet. Board chairman Robby Stein, a former village board trustee who had also been involved with the Sag Harbor Partnership and the board of the Cinema Arts Center, but who has since stepped down from the non-profit organizations, said he had reviewed with the village’s ethics attorney and with his own attorney his ability to vote on the cinema application.

“I do not stand in conflict,” he said. “There is no material or personal gain here.”

Board member Robert Plumb had one caveat before the board took its poll.

“Is this going to be the last go-round?” he asked. “I have an issue with people applying for significant projects and then coming back.”

“This is it. … We’ve maxed it out,” Mr. Kopelson said.

Ms. Gornik said the outcome of the ZBA’s straw poll “is huge for us.”

“We’re really, really thrilled because it means that for the kind of office spaces we need and possible virtual reality and all the things we want to do up there, we’ll have adequate room,” she said. “It helps us meet a long range goal in a really profound way and we’re thrilled.”

During Tuesday’s ZBA hearing, Mr. Kopelson also said the construction process had revealed “structurally the building needed a lot more work than what we initially anticipated.”

“We are addressing all of that,” he said.

Nonetheless, Ms. Gornik said they were happy with the progress.

“We’ve really picked the right crew, I think. We’re incredibly happy with [contractor] Racanelli,” she said, noting the contractor had even provided the Sag Harbor Partnership with a recent donation toward its annual Christmas party.

“They get what we are doing and how deeply the community cares,” Ms. Gornik continued. “It feels like a tremendous team effort.”

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