SagTown Denied Appeal; ZBA Says Shop Sells More Than Just Coffee

A newly-reopened SagTown Coffee did a brisk business on Sunday, August 6, 2017. Michael Heller photo

It might be hard to fathom, but in a village where SagTown Coffee, Jack’s Stir Brew, The Golden Pear, Grindstone, 7-Eleven, Schiavoni’s and Harbor Market — and a few others — brew coffee every day for their patrons, no formal definition exists for “coffee shop” in the village zoning code.

That fact was part of the argument made by attorney Brian DeSesa, representing SagTown Coffee, on Tuesday before the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals, which was set to decide whether there had been an unauthorized change of use from coffee shop to something grander since it reopened after the December 16, 2016, Main Street fire.

SagTown was at that ZBA meeting to appeal village building inspector Tom Preiato’s finding that such a change had occurred, with a trip before the Sag Harbor Planning Board for further site plan approvals and even possibly the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees for a code amendment at stake.

In a letter to the village, Mr. Preiato said he had observed bread being toasted, avocado being spread and other foods being prepared on site. In his letter, he noted that any assertion that food was prepackaged and was simply being heated on site was “disingenuous” and “quite an understatement.”

Mr. DeSesa responded by explaining SagTown operates under an agricultural markets rule that allows “assembly line” style food production, and pointed out SagTown is using the same convection-style equipment that Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts use.

While “coffee shop” does not have a specific definition in Sag Harbor, Mr. DeSesa said, it is still listed as a permitted use in the village business district. He said SagTown had been approved for coffee shop and related retail uses on its certificate of occupancy, though a village code provision that he once invoked has since been rescinded by the village board: It allowed a property with approval for multiple uses to shift square footage among those uses without needing planning board approval.

A separate matter still under litigation in Sag Harbor Village Justice Court concerns the wall that was supposed to separate the two retail spaces that SagTown now operates as one, including the former Collette Luxury Consignment space that fronts on Main Street.

“Everything that is currently going on is consistent with retail related to coffee shop, and coffee shop is a permitted use,” Mr. DeSesa said.

The ZBA ultimately stood by Mr. Preiato’s view. New interim chairman Robby Stein moved to “uphold his determination and recommend that [SagTown] go to the village board for a code change,” and the board’s vote was 5-0.

Before the ZBA arrived at its decision, its attorney, Denise Schoen, said that “uses change and morph over time with what we come to expect.”

“For some years we struggled with the fact that bookstores were selling coffee,” Ms. Schoen told the board. “One of the issues here is you’re going to see that nothing fits perfectly. Retail food store? You can’t have tables. They have tables. You’re going to find when you get to each category that there is a roadblock somewhere. It may be that what makes the most sense is to have a new use.”

According to Ms. Schoen, the SagTown matter “will now revert back to Justice Court, where the applicant will need to come up with a viable path” to either legalize the uses that exist there now or change up what’s happening to fit into one of the currently defined uses in village code.