At Sag Harbor Zoning Board Meeting, a House Divides a Hill

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11 Carver Street in the Chatfield's Hill neighborhood. Christine Sampson photo

Plans to renovate a house at 11 Carver Street in Chatfield’s Hill have split the neighborhood into factions — two sides who have written volumes of letters and signed petitions either favoring or opposing the project.

On one side is a group of 18 residents who want the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals to stick to the word of the code and reject a handful of variance requests by Mark J. Madden, the owner of the house. On the other side are 16 residents who say they support Mr. Madden’s project and have been incorrectly lumped into the group of opponents.

The house has been before the ZBA since July, when Mr. Madden was originally seeking a 5,238-cubic-foot variance in addition to the 3,036 cubic feet already permitted on the site for protrusion into the sky plane. He also sought variances for a swimming pool and garage in a front yard, where those structures are not permitted, because his lot has two front yards. It fronts on both Carver Street and Robeson Boulevard, which run parallel to each other.

Last Tuesday, Mr. Madden’s architect, Paul Clinton, explained the height of the house had been reduced by a foot, down to 26 feet, with ceiling heights of the two stories at 9 feet, 6 inches instead of 10 feet and 7 feet, 6 inches instead of 8 feet. The change reduced the proposed total sky plane violation down to 6,418 cubic feet, with the final variance request at 3,382 cubic feet.

“We believe we’ve made a really good attempt at decreasing what we originally sought,” Mr. Clinton said.

Eighteen residents signed identical letters urging the ZBA not to grant the variances, or to grant “a minimal variance, especially as [Mr. Madden] owns the adjacent vacant property which is available for his use.” These 18 residents also stated in the letters they had specifically given their permission to be included in correspondence to the ZBA opposing the variances.

“We appreciate all that this board does to assure that Sag Harbor is protected through its building code,” said Eileen Rosenberg, who read a copy of the letter to the ZBA.

The supporters said in their own letter that the opponents “misrepresented themselves as speaking for the entire neighborhood.”

“We have signed with knowledge of what the need of the variances … are for, unlike the prior group who had no idea of what they were opposing. … This project is something that our community can be proud of,” the supporters wrote in a letter filed with the Sag Harbor Building Department.

In October, the ZBA had asked Mr. Clinton to see how far he could go in reducing the pyramid violation by scaling down the height of the house by two feet, not one.

“One of the things that [board member] Susan [Mead] brought up last meeting, which is important to us as a board, is that we don’t set too much precedent of volume,” chairman Robby Stein said last Tuesday. “I see that you’ve brought it down a foot. I’m wondering if you can reduce it any further.”

Mr. Clinton said the house “doesn’t appear to be out of scale or out of touch,” and added, “There’s a certain issue with that in the design of the house. This house is a narrow house. Every little bit of window height we can get we prefer because of the shaft-like appearance of the house.”

Ms. Mead asserted the request for a two-foot reduction “is not an unusual request.”

“You’re not any different from any other applicant,” she said. “They all say it’s design issues.”

Attorney Alex Kriegsman, representing Mr. Madden, responded by saying, “Every house is different, every property is different.”

“We’ve talked about the confines here,” he said. “We ought to be talking about the architectural integrity of it. We’ve made some significant reductions in response to concerns by this board.”

The ZBA was in a unique position last Tuesday. Its attorney, Denise Schoen, was not present, and only a basic quorum of three members was in attendance, including Ms. Mead, Mr. Stein and member Robert Plumb; board member Jennifer Ponzini had resigned, as had board alternate Ted Pettus. Board member Scott Baker was absent from the meeting. In light of the unusual situation, Mr. Stein offered applicants the chance to postpone their cases to a future meeting to be heard by a board with more members in attendance.

In a straw poll, the three ZBA members present agreed they were not in favor of the pyramid variance Mr. Madden was requesting. Mr. Kriegsman conferred with Mr. Clinton and opted to postpone any more discussion for 11 Carver Street.

“I think this is devolving into personal attacks and things that have nothing to do with this application,” he said.

Ms. Mead later responded by saying, “I’ve heard no personal attacks. I thought their presentation was extremely professional.”

This article has been updated to reflect a straw poll taken during the meeting and a clarification regarding content of letters submitted to the ZBA.

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