Sag Harbor Wins Lawsuit Challenging Wetlands Permit

A ruling by the Sag Harbor Harbor Committee denying a wetland permit for the construction of a pool at this house at 36 Fordham Street was upheld by a New York State Supreme Court justice. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

A New York State Supreme Court justice, in a decision issued November 25, upheld the Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee’s decision to deny a wetlands permit for a swimming pool near wetlands at a house at 36 Fordham Street.

But a second suit seeking to overturn the village’s 2015 wetlands law, which guides the issuance of such permits, is still pending.

Bronster LLP, the law firm representing the property’s owner, 36 Fordham Holdings LLC, sued the village after the Harbor Committee in October 2019 overruled its own environmental analyst, Charles “Chic” Voorhis, in denying a request for a saltwater swimming pool that had been reduced in size from 14 by 32 feet to 12 by 24 feet, but would be as close as 63 feet to wetlands associated with Ligonee Brook, where a 75-foot setback is required.

The project also called for the installation two drywells for the pool and three others for stormwater runoff. Although 918 square feet of vegetation would have to be cleared, the applicant proposed creating a 13,881-square-foot wetland buffer. A shed and gravel driveway would have been removed, 2,511 square feet of native landscaping would be added, and a modern wastewater treatment system would have been installed.

In a five-page decision, Justice George Nolan ruled that the Harbor Committee was justified in relying on the testimony of Frank Piccininni, an independent environmental consultant hired by a neighbor, Philip Suswein, who opposed the application.

Although Mr. Voorhis found problems with the application and cited concerns about a pool being less than 75 feet from the brook, where alewives spawn, he reasoned that with other mitigation in place, a pool would not have negative impacts on the brook.

Mr. Piccininni, on the other hand, argued the pool would exacerbate negative impacts on the creek and threaten the alewife population as well as tiger salamanders, an endangered species, that have been seen in the area. Environmental groups also opposed the application.

Justice Nolan also ruled that the Harbor Committee was justified in its demand that the applicant consider an alternate placement for a pool, and that just because it had approved pools closer than 75 feet from wetlands in the past, it was not bound to do so in this case.

Bronster LLP is the law firm of Bruce Bronster, an attorney and developer, who has been involved in the purchase of a number of properties in Sag Harbor over the past five years.

The village was represented by Ann Leahey, an attorney with the Adam Miller Group. Village Attorney Denise Schoen said she could not comment on the suit because a related matter brought by Mr. Bronster’s law firm, challenging the village’s wetlands law, was still pending. She did say that the village has requested that case be dismissed.