The new Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center inched one step closer to becoming a reality Tuesday, with the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals agreeing in a straw poll to grant the variances needed for the project to proceed.
With the variances basically assured, and with approval last month by the Sag Harbor Planning Board of a state-mandated environmental review of the project, the Sag Harbor Partnership is slowly but steadily clearing the hurdles in the way of breaking ground.
“We were thrilled and grateful to the ZBA for being open-minded,” April Gornik, vice president of the Sag Harbor Partnership, said Wednesday. “They’re doing their job, but I also feel they have our backs. We’re really grateful for their help and guidance.”
What remains ahead is obtaining the anticipated written decision from the ZBA within 62 days, plus approval by the village’s Planning Board and Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review. The BHPAR has already seen the project, providing project architects with generally favorable feedback and specific requests a few times during informal discussion sessions.
Ms. Gornik explained the project is on a tight timeline because the Sag Harbor Partnership, which owns the property and the remains of the theater that was heavily damaged in December 2016 fire, has applied for funding through grant programs that expect projects to be largely “shovel ready.”
“We need to have our building permits. Our organization has been working for months to make sure we have all our ducks in order here,” she said, crediting her partnership board colleague Susan Mead, attorney Christopher Kelley and architect Allen Kopelson with doing a lot of the heavy lifting. “We’ve been going to all the village meetings, notifying everyone what our plans are, taking responses and making sure that everyone’s on the same page as us,” Ms. Gornik said.
Of course, the Sag Harbor Partnership also has yet to formally launch its capital campaign to rebuild the theater, which Ms. Gornik has estimated will cost between $5 million and $6 million.
“We thought everybody kind of needed a break,” she said. “The whole community was so generous last year. We don’t want anyone to have donor fatigue.”
Plans for reconstructing the cinema call for rebuilding the façade exactly as it was before, complete with the neon sign, which has been restored and placed in storage. Instead of a first-floor art gallery space, there will be a café featuring refreshments brought in from local vendors.
“We found the original drawings to this building from 1937,” Mr. Kopelson told the ZBA on Tuesday. “It makes it easy for us to replicate exactly what we want to have … and the sign is ready to go.”
On Tuesday, during a discussion about the height of the building and a proposed roof deck, the ZBA shared concerns expressed by members of the BHPAR that people standing on the deck should not be able to be seen from Main Street below. ZBA members also said they do not want people visible from the streets a few blocks out surrounding the cinema, either, and Mr. Kopelson said that a temporary screen would be erected or some other solution devised to rectify that situation.
“It feels like a party space, fundraising, cocktail parties. That’s why we’re zeroing in that it not be visible,” ZBA chairman Tim McGuire told Mr. Kopelson. “I would like to think about as you walk 20 steps up Washington Street, what does it look like from there?”
ZBA member Robert Plumb’s observation was that “as you get further away, it’s a diminished view anyway and eventually it disappears.”
Mr. McGuire suggested language be written into the ZBA’s decision that specifies approval of the height variance be tied to its ability to limit the sight of people on the roof deck. The height variance grants relief of 10 feet to build a 35-foot, flat-roofed building, where 25 feet is allowed for such a building, following a recent code change.
Ms. Gornik said she thought the board’s concerns were “very reasonable.”
“I get why they would be worried about that. We would be worried about that too,” she said. “Part of the importance of the whole project is that Main Street to be whole again, and we don’t want Main Street to be whole again in a weird way or an ugly way or non-historic way. We want it to be what it was.”
The ZBA, consisting Tuesday of Mr. McGuire, Mr. Plumb, member Scott Baker and new alternate member Ted Pettus, ultimately agreed to approve the other variances after a brief discussion. They include relief for zero setbacks for the second and third floors on the north and south sides, where five-foot setbacks would normally be required. Another variance, for side-yard setbacks on both sides, would be for zero where setbacks of 10 feet are normally required in both places.
The total square footage of the new building has been corrected to 9,406 square feet, as opposed to the 10,829 square feet that had been advertised in legal notices. However, a floor area variance was still needed because the proposal is for a village business district structure in excess of 3,000 square feet.
“Most of the excess is existing,” Mr. McGuire said. “I’d just say to the board that we are going to write this decision … very carefully, so it will really only apply to this building, so new stores can’t take over two or three stores and combine them into a giant store. This won’t be able to be used as precedent.”
On a related note, the ZBA also unanimously approved a request from the Brown Harris Stevens of the Hamptons to remain in its temporary home on Main Street, in the “Gingerbread House,” for up to one more year. The ZBA approved the real estate firm’s variance request last February to occupy a retail storefront after the December 16, 2016, Main Street fire displaced it along with several other businesses.