Variances Too Big, Too Numerous for Sag Harbor ZBA to Approve


The Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday saw two unusual applications come up for approval: one for a house so tall on a lot so narrow that it would protrude into the sky plane by more than 8,200 cubic feet, and one that requested 12 individual variances, the most seen for a single-family house in recent memory.

The pyramid variance request, made by Mark Madden at 11 Carver Street to allow expansion of the first and second floors of the house, was 5,238 cubic feet, which would be on top of 3,036 cubic feet already permitted at the house. The variance “would probably be the largest pyramid variance that would be granted since I’ve been on the board,” ZBA chairman Tim McGuire said.

The proposal, according to architect Paul Clinton, is to add 199 square feet to the existing 2,948-square-foot house, making it 3,174 square feet.

“This project is our attempt at the modern farmhouse. … The house that exists now is a hodgepodge of architecture. Our goal is obviously to renovate the house and do as little to the footprint as possible,” he said, noting the property spans 50 feet at its largest width and already has some nonconforming aspects. The proposal calls for removing a sunroom in the back of the house, and adding the extra space toward the front and east sides.

The Carver Street application drew criticism from neighbors in the Chatfield’s Hill subdivision. Resident Jan Milne read a letter signed by 18 nearby homeowners opposing the variances. “Granting such substantial variances negate the purpose and benefit of the law,” Ms. Milne said, referring to the revised zoning laws and house-size limits that Sag Harbor enacted in 2016.

Barbara Eileen Grigg, whose next-door property line is less than eight feet from the existing house at 11 Carver Street, agreed. “If community-agreed-upon norms are not enforced, why do we have them? I would argue that thinking ‘bigger is better’ is inherently faulty.”

Mr. McGuire said the board tends to become “a little cross-eyed” when it starts to see pyramid variance requests over 2,500 cubic feet.

“Our code is, in some respects, written for an idealized village where every plot is kind of a rectangle of similar dimensions,” he said. “When you take that code and apply it to the way lots are set up in Sag Harbor, it’s very difficult to make the code work.”

Mr. McGuire acknowledged the challenges of this particular lot, and called the design “lovely,” but added, “it’s too tall in the sense that the lot is too narrow, but that’s still of great significance.”

Applicants Adam Scott and Chris Beacham of 5 Vickers Street requested 12 variances, which ZBA attorney Denise Schoen said was the most she had seen in a single residential application in her eight years with the village. The property owners want to build additions to the house, a swimming pool and patios, and sought, among their 12 requests, a 4,107-cubic-foot pyramid variance and a total lot coverage variance that would allow 33.65 percent total lot coverage where 25 percent is the maximum permitted under village code.

“We tried to minimize the extent of these variances the best we could,” said architect Richard Searles, who noted the property technically has three front yards since it also faces Harrison Street Extension and Downer Place. The 1,269-square-foot house would grow to 2,091 square feet.

Mr. McGuire called the twelve requested variances “huge.”

“It’s a lovely design, but … your head starts spinning as you go down this list,” he said.

Ultimately, the ZBA held the two hearings open for continued discussion, and sent Mr. Clinton and Mr. Searles back to their clients to find ways to modify their plans.