Questions Raised Over Sag Harbor Waterfront Zoning Proposal

Sag Harbor Village waterfront. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

A handful of speakers offered suggestions at a Sag Harbor Village Board meeting on Tuesday, November 9, on how to tweak the proposed Waterfront Overlay District that the board has been considering for much of the past year.

Mayor Jim Larocca recently unveiled a streamlined version of the zoning code revisions that are aimed at protecting the waterfront from over-development. While some of the changes made to the new version of the draft version have been greeted enthusiastically, others have spurred questions.

Although the recommendations of most speakers were accepted with little comment from the board, the mayor took umbrage at a presentation by architect Randy Croxton on behalf of Save Sag Harbor that sought to show the impact a relaxation on proposed height restrictions would have on potential development along Bay and West Water streets.

Croxton had just shown a slide depicting the Corner Bar and Dime Community Bank buildings, which are currently only one story, being replaced with three-story structures that took up the entire lot area. Under a previous version of the code, new buildings on those sites would have been limited to only two stories. Croxton acknowledged that the images of cube-like figures represented a maximum zoning envelope and not what an actual building would look like, but he added that any architect asked to design a new building would surely try to max out the allowable volume for his client.

By then, the mayor had had enough.

“I find this completely unacceptable,” Larocca said, before cutting off Croxton as he was finishing his presentation. “This is an ambush.”

When Save Sag Harbor co-director Hilary Loomis interjected, “I think we are just asking why the changes to the new draft?” Larocca replied. “You are not asking the question, you are presenting a thesis that is unexamined.”

“We’d be delighted to have it examined, and we’d be delighted to engage in whatever process you think would be appropriate,” Croxton replied, adding that his aim was to educate the board about what could conceivably happen under the proposed code, not what would necessarily occur.

But Larocca said the group was using scare tactics to mislead the public. He said it was ignoring the impact the various regulatory boards would have on the process, including the Village Board, which will review major projects under the new code, and “assuming the worst outcome in every case.”

Earlier, Peter Ginna, who like Croxton is a Save Sag Harbor board member, brought up some of the same issues.

One of his concerns was the latest draft’s definition of a waterfront lot as one that either abuts the water itself or one that abuts a waterfront park.

“Is a property that is across the street from a waterfront park considered to ‘abut’ it?” he asked, pointing out that if that were so, all the properties on the south side of Bay Street across from Marine Park would be restricted to two stories. If that was not the case, those properties could be redeveloped with three-story buildings, he said.

Both village attorney Elizabeth Vail and Kathryn Eiseman, the board’s planning consultant, confirmed that the term “abut” did, in fact, mean the properties had to be immediately next to one another.

Ginna also asked if 10-foot-wide pedestrian walkways, which would be one of the requirements for permission to build a three-story building on a waterfront lot, could be considered part of a separate “visual access yard” that is supposed to set aside at least 20 percent of a given lot’s width. It could, he was informed.

He also raised the question, once again, of whether the Village Board, which will review all development projects of more than 3,500 square feet as part of the code revision, would have the ability to approve applications that had been rejected by other regulatory boards.

“Can we assume that the board’s role is to serve as a check on overdevelopment rather than provide a side door for it?” he asked.

“There are no side doors in this code,” Larocca replied, adding that any project approved by the Village Board would also have to be approved by any other regulatory board having jurisdiction over it.

Susan Mead, a former Zoning Board of Appeals member and director of the Sag Harbor Partnership also raised concerns about what has been dropped from the latest draft.

She noted, for instance, the original proposal, which had included numerous changes to use and size tables, would have imposed new limits on the size of commercial developments in the Office District. While the new version continues to limit the size of such developments to 2,000 square feet in the Village Business zone, it does not require similar size limits in the Office District, except for uses like a grocery store or home furnishings store, which would be limited to 3,000 square feet. Mead urged the board to be consistent over both zoning districts.

Mead also pointed out that the new draft would allow affordable apartments to be developed in non-waterfront lots, but said the proposed size range of 800 square feet to 2,500 square feet was too large, and suggested the proposed sizes be reduced to a range of 500 square feet to 1,200 square feet to insure they were attainable.

Affordable housing was also the concern of Rob Calvert, who urged the board to allow apartments in the Office District through a special exception permit. He acknowledged that some opposed housing in the district because of the recent construction of the three waterfront condos on West Water Street and over concerns about the impact of sewage and parking considerations, but he said the district provided the best opportunity for the village to develop workforce housing.

Other concerns were also raised. Mary Ann Eddy, the chairwoman of the Harbor Committee, pointed out that a requirement that rooftop mechanical equipment be limited to 20 percent of the area would effectively rule out someone placing solar panels on their roof.

Allan Brown, who said he lived in one of two single-family houses on West Water Street, said the proposed code would put unfair restrictions on those houses because of height limits, required viewshed, and other measures and he asked the board to exempt existing single-family houses from those requirements.

The board agreed to continue the hearing on the overlay district until its next formal meeting, on December 14.