Sag Harbor Mayor Larocca Unveils New Waterfront Overlay Law

Concerns are being raised about the pace at which Sag Harbor Mayor Jim Larocca has moved to complete a proposed waterfront overlay district in the village. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Jim Larocca on Tuesday unveiled an amended version of a new zoning law that would create a special waterfront overlay district aimed at controlling development along what is widely agreed to be the village’s most valuable asset.

The new measures, which will be the subject of a public hearing on November 9, would both streamline and expand proposals originally brought forth by former Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy more than a year ago.

While maintaining proposed height limits on new buildings along the waterfront and requiring developers to provide visual and physical access to it, the updated zoning law would drop a series of building form requirements that would have given developers strict design guidelines to follow. Also dropped will be any changes to the types of uses that are currently contained in the village zoning code. Proposed suggestions for uses such as boutique hotels brought pushback in earlier public discussions.

The new law would also significantly extend the area covered by the waterfront overlay district. Originally, the district would have extended from the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard on the east to Beacon restaurant to the west. It will now include the Cormaria retreat house to the east and extend all the way to marinas and the WLNG radio station on Redwood Road.

Larocca said the goal of the new zoning regulations was “to protect preserve, and nourish what we have.”

Noting that there was “a lot to digest,” Larocca quipped, “there will be no quiz tonight.” He did say the board would likely hold a public work session to go over the law between now and next month’s hearing. The updated code changes will also be available for public review on the village’s website.

The board also introduced two companion pieces of legislation. One would restore a 50-percent limitation on the expansion of any nonconforming use in the village, which had been dropped from the code a decade ago. A second would correct an oversight by changing the zoning of John Steinbeck Waterfront Park from Office District to Parks and Conservation.

Kathryn Eiseman, the village’s planning consultant, outlined a number of changes to the waterfront overlay district while seeking to assure the large crowd that filled the Sag Harbor Firehouse for the meeting that the law would still have teeth. “The vision for the waterfront area hasn’t changed,” she said, “but there are many ways to achieve the same goals.”

Like the original proposal, the new law will limit the height of most buildings in the waterfront zone to two stories or 25 feet. Developers will still be able to obtain permission to build three-story buildings as tall as 35 feet, but they would be required to provide additional public access to the waterfront and set the third stories back at least 10 feet.

The Village Board will also take on the authority to issue special exception permits for buildings that would be larger than 3,500 square feet. The mayor said the board had attempted something similar in 2016 when it adopted new zoning rules limiting the gross floor area of houses to a percentage of their lot size, but later returned that authority to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Eiseman said apartments and condominiums would not be permitted in the waterfront zone, but neither would it allow affordable housing, which she said, was a village-wide issue that should be addressed accordingly.

She also said the village should revisit parking requirements and consider reinstituting a payment in lieu of parking program that would allow developers who could not provide enough spaces to pay into a dedicated parking fund, but she said the amount charged could be pegged to the value of local real estate.

The board fielded a number of questions from members of the audience about the new measure, but Larocca said Tuesday’s unveiling was “not the time for advocacy,” which he said would come when the hearing is held in November. The board’s goal is to have new waterfront protections in place before a moratorium on most projects expires on February 28.

Opposition To Cell Tower

The board tabled a request from Verizon to install a mobile cell tower, also called a cell on wheels, or COW, at WLNG radio. The board had allowed the company to place a similar unit there on an emergency basis in the summer of 2020, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic when an influx of residents and their demand on wireless services threatened to overwhelm the system. Specifically, the board had concerns about 911 calls being dropped.

But the mayor said he was not pleased when Verizon removed the COW as Hurricane Henri, a potentially serious emergency, approached in August, and sent to it to Queens, for the U.S. Open tennis tournament, instead.

A group of neighbors, who have opposed WLNG’s plan to contract with Verizon to replace its broadcasting tower with a multi-use monopole that would carry a number concealed antennas for cell service, have also opposed the COW, arguing its presence could create a precedent for a permanent tower, among other issues.

Those concerns were raised by Emma Walton Hamilton, who read a letter from the neighborhood group, which has grown to include more than 200 residents.

She cited the removal of the COW before the storm, its 61-foot height, potential disruption to wetlands, and its increased size. She also said a recently installed cell antenna in the cupola of the Municipal Building had improved service, potentially making the need for the COW unnecessary.

Board members agreed, and while not denying Verizon’s application altogether, said they needed more information before they could act on it.