Developer Jay Bialsky’s plans for a complex of waterfront townhouses took a major leap forward Thursday when the project’s architecture received unanimous approval from the Sag Harbor’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review.
At this point, Mr. Bialsky awaits site plan approval from the village planning board, which will meet on March 26, and approval from the Harbor Committee, which is expected to be granted at its April meeting, before he can apply for a building permit for the 2 West Water Street property.
“I’m pleased that we’re done with public hearings,” Mr. Bialsky said Friday. “I thought the process went well. … I’m excited to get started. We did come a long way.”
Thursday’s public hearing marked a fresh start for the project. For the review board, which has held a series of hearings on the project since early January, the turning point seemed to come after Mr. Bialsky’s team formally presented the scaled-down “Unit 3,” the building farthest from West Water Street, and revamped its design with what project sponsors called a more lightweight look.
One of its architects, Andre Kikoski, said Thursday the idea to redesign the unit came from one of the review board’s own members, David Berridge.
“David made a great suggestion,” Mr. Kikoski recalled. “‘Why don’t you allow this building to be something else? Let it become something different, something lighter, have a little fun with it.’ That was very inspiring.”
The unit was reduced in volume by one-third, down to about 5,600 square feet, and the materials were changed from brick to wood and glass. Its height is five feet lower than the prior unit’s height, buoyed by a quirk in the gradient of the land. Architect Dave Harvey explained that the third unit, unlike the other two units, is in a FEMA zone in which the elevation is two feet to sea level, meaning its first-floor elevation can be two feet lower than the other two units.
“We have to do some extra construction on the foundation to do that, but we’re willing to do that,” Mr. Harvey said.
The total size of the three units, including the two facing West Water Street, is now around 22,000 square feet. A previous iteration of the project, proposed by Greystone Development with 13 residential units, measured as much as 36,000 square feet. Plans for the first two units, which are three-story, red-brick buildings with rooftop pools, underground parking and a breezeway in between, remain unchanged.
The changes to the last apartment resonated with the review board.
“I appreciate the third structure,” acting board chairman Dean Gomolka said. “That’s a wonderful change that you’ve made.”
Board member John “Chris” Connor said he was “very pleased with it.” Board alternate Judith Long added, “I am, too, and I wasn’t in the beginning at all.”
The approval came amid continued division from the community.
Randolph Croxton, an architect who is a board member of Save Sag Harbor, read a statement acknowledging the project has evolved in a positive direction. Still, Save Sag Harbor’s statement said, “It is our belief that the proposed scale of 2 West Water Street is not in keeping with the character of the village and of the historic district, and it is our hope that further reductions can still be made to ensure a successful outcome.”
Peter Acocella, who lives in an historic house on Hampton Street, said the proposed townhouses are “not Sag Harbor.” He questioned whether it would even be built, for instance, in Nantucket.
“How does this building fit into the rest of our architecture?” he said. “I think, despite the fact that I think it’s beautiful, I think it would be a stain on our landscape. This is very troubling to me because it can’t be undone.”
Scott Fordham, who said he is a 13th-generation resident of Sag Harbor, urged the board to approve the project. “I certainly don’t think the building that’s there now fits in,” he said. “I’m in favor of this. I think it’s going to be a big improvement over what’s there now.”
Jane Holden, a longtime local resident and real estate agent, called for its approval as well, saying there’s precedent for buildings of this size in the village, such as the municipal building, the Watchcase Factory apartments and the Harbor Close condominiums.
“This village will be better off with what he’s putting there,” Ms. Holden said.
Mr. Berridge, whose comments inspired the architects to make their changes to unit 3, suggested they create a viewshed through to the water between the first two units and the third, but the developer indicated he was unwilling to look at that as an option. Mr. Berridge later said he simply remained concerned with the bulkhead on the waterfront. “I’d like to see that a little bit softer,” he said.
Brian DeSesa, one of Mr. Bialsky’s attorneys, said that had already been reviewed by the Harbor Committee.
With the board seemingly poised to grant its approval, resident Silas Marder stepped up to say, “I am concerned that perhaps the process didn’t best serve the best result.” But he drew one positive conclusion, that the discussion seemed to also become about “improving a process and taking things further, which I know is what every single person in this room wants,” he said.