Sag Harbor Zoning Board Takes Up West Water Street Condos

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The view from West Water Street of a rendering of the condominiums proposed by developer Jay Bialsky. Courtesy image

When Sag Harbor’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review last viewed preliminary plans for Jay Bialsky’s redevelopment of 2 West Water Street a couple of weeks ago, its chairman predicted the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals would have a hard time with the project. That’s exactly what began to unfold Tuesday.

Mr. Bialsky is seeking at least nine variances for the plans, including one for the building’s height and one for a third floor in a zone where two stories is the maximum permitted. He is also seeking a variance to place the building right on the West Water Street property line without a setback and one for each of the building’s three apartments, which are proposed over the maximum apartment size. Sideyard setback relief and a final variance for “any and all dimensional relief required for this project” are also requested.

“A lot of these variances will be reduced or go away entirely if you go down to two stories … and reduce the size of the apartments,” ZBA chairman Tim McGuire told Mr. Bialsky’s representatives. “I would like you to give that some serious consideration.”

Board member Scott Baker pressed for some measure of setback from the street line, which, in that particular part of the village, is required by code to be 40 feet. The current building is set back from the property line approximately 15 feet.

“If you tried pushing it back, it would give some relief from the street so it’s not a sheer wall going up,” Mr. Baker said. “I understand being on the street is a fine thing, but it’s all the way up.”

He also suggested Mr. Bialsky’s representatives widen the proposed 10-foot space between the two sections of the building, saying it may have the effect of being a “tunnel.”

Board member Susan Mead pushed for Mr. Bialsky’s team to provide a three-dimensional model of the proposed 27,740-square-foot building. It is planned at 46 feet tall, not 48.5 feet, which is what was listed in the public notices. Village code caps the height of a building in that zone, the village office district, at 35 feet.

“We have another case across the street that will come before us at three stories,” Ms. Mead said. “I would think it would be extremely useful to the citizens to fully understand what that type of height is going to do. … The one across the street will cite yours as the precedent.”

Dave Harvey, an architect on the project, said they are preparing three-dimensional images rather than a three-dimensional model.

Ms. Mead wondered whether a zoning change for the property would be more appropriate and less precedent-setting than granting some pretty dramatic variances.

Denise Schoen, the board’s attorney, said “a zone change won’t help.”

“This is the district where apartment buildings are permitted, and that’s the proposed use,” she said. “Unless you were to convince the village board to change the maximum, unless we were to get them to change their regulations, the only method to deal with that is the variances.”

Ms. Schoen pointed out the existing structure on the property is already non-conforming in terms of height, number of stories and other aspects.

“That is relevant to your analysis because they could easily renovate what they have now,” she said.

Mr. Harvey jumped into the conversation to say Mr. Bialsky’s current plan is far less dense than a previous iteration, a 13-unit development with 13 boat slips and an underground parking area proposed by the previous owner, Greystone Development. The Sag Harbor Planning Board recently affirmed that the new plan, which also calls for an underground parking area but now has six boat slips, is less dense and won’t have a significant negative impact on the environment. However, Mr. Harvey said, Mr. Bialsky now faces the difficulty of needing three variances.

“He’s lessening that [density], but you wind up with a loophole, where they are now oversized,” Mr. Harvey said.

Mr. McGuire called the variances “obviously significant and huge.”

“We’re really going to need some reasons that make sense to us. We normally grant variances that are minimal,” he said.

Several community members spoke during the hearing Tuesday.

“We’re very grateful to Mr. Bialsky for the park, but this can’t be a quid pro quo deal,” Hilary Loomis, a board member of Save Sag Harbor, said in reference to the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, which Mr. Bialsky’s purchase of the property will help create. “The variances are massive, the height is massive, the size is massive. The village code is very important. We have to be careful that this doesn’t set a huge precedent.”

Rabbi Berel Lerman of the Center for Jewish Life Chabad in Sag Harbor, which is next door, spoke in support of the project. “To have a building which is empty and nothing is happening to it is often a concern to me,” he said. “We’re very happy that there’s finally something happening with that property.”

Jane Holden compared the building to the Harbor Close condominiums, which she said are also three stories tall, and supported Mr. Bialsky’s proposal. “What he wants to do and has already done for this village should be considered,” she said.

Gigi Morris said the proposal “sounds huge to me.”

“Once it’s there, we may all just look at it going, ‘What were we thinking?’” she said.

The ZBA voted to continue the discussion on 2 West Water Street to its September 18 meeting, pending some design revisions by the architects.

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