By Christine Sampson
The Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals has challenged a ruling by the village building inspector wrapped up in an application that has been filed by Maritime Properties LLC at 20 Bay Street on behalf of the musician Billy Joel.
With the number of variance requests at 20 Bay Street reduced to just one for the lifting, rotation and expansion of the house, the ZBA last Tuesday decided to ask building inspector Tom Preiato to re-evaluate his own conclusions. The ZBA has also requested written arguments from those who oppose and support the variance request before making a decision.
The postponing of a decision seemed to cause members of the board and its attorney, Denise Schoen, to clash politely with Jon Tarbet, the attorney representing Maritime Properties LLC and Mr. Joel.
Mr. Tarbet had appeared before the ZBA in June to request two variances — one for an increase of a nonconforming use in the village business district, and one for a 23.1-foot rear-yard setback where 40 feet would normally be required.
However, a more recent interpretation of village code by building inspector Tom Preiato for this application eliminated that first variance request. That’s because Mr. Tarbet is now citing a different code provision — one that allows a property owner with a building zoned with multiple uses to combine the allowable uses, provided that the total floor area specified on the certificates of occupancy are not exceeded, without needing the approval of any of the village’s regulatory boards.
The 4,943-square-foot house has 1,300 square feet of commercial use in it right now, and Mr. Tarbet said Tuesday his client wants to make it all residential.
When the ZBA indicated it would delay its decision last Tuesday, Mr. Tarbet responded by saying, “It’s somewhat unfair to the applicant.” He called it “a very simple, narrow issue of whether we deserve a variance for the rear yard,” and said he believed the matter of code interpretation had already been settled by Mr. Preiato.
Board chairman Tim McGuire said the building inspector’s opinions were subject to review — even by himself — after they have been handed down.
“The problem is that this is a very problematic building and proposal,” Mr. McGuire said. “That’s the underlying problem. I don’t want this to go forward until we are really clear on the issues that we as a ZBA are addressing.”
Attorney Tiffany Scarlato, representing Rector Street resident George Holley, and attorney Jeff Bragman, representing the group Save Sag Harbor, encouraged the ZBA to ask for a re-evaluation of the variance requests based on the idea that the code provision cited by Mr. Tarbet is not the only one that should apply in this case.
“It was not meant to be read in a vacuum,” Ms. Scarlato said. “It wasn’t meant to be used to obliterate the rest of the zoning code.”
Mr. Tarbet pointed out that the code provision he cited specifically says “notwithstanding anything else in the code.”
“It seems very clear to me,” he said. “The code is very strictly against the municipality. If there’s any sort of vagueness, it goes to the benefit of the applicant. The municipality doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.”
Ms. Schoen acknowledged the code does read that way, but said she thought it would be fair to the board and helpful to her to receive written arguments from the attorneys representing parties on both sides of the issue.
“I don’t think it’s fair to ask the board to dismiss this as a non-issue unless the building inspector provides a firm determination that this is the only section that applies,” Ms. Schoen said.
Additionally, Rector Street resident Myrna Davis spoke up to oppose Mr. Joel’s building project. “Our entire view will just be buildings,” she said. “I feel that you should consider that it will be a detriment to our property if it will be allowed to be built.”