ZBA Grants Approval For Bulova Watchcase Factory Project


With little to no fanfare and just a handful of people looking on, the Sag Harbor zoning board of appeals formally gave their approval to the proposed project at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory. The moment officially ends one of the more contentious chapters in the village’s review of the luxury condo project and places the project sponsors, Sag Development Partners, mere steps away from being able to move forward with the restoration and redevelopment of the historic landmark in the heart of Sag Harbor Village.

Sag Development Partners is hoping to redevelop the property into 65 luxury condo units in the factory building and eight newly constructed townhouses. The project, which is designed in the hopes of reaching a platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, also boasts a recreation center with glass enclosed pool and underground parking facility.

On Tuesday, August 19 the zoning board, with Chairman Michael Bromberg abstaining after he recused himself last month, formally voted to overturn a Suffolk County Planning Commission mandate that the project include 20 percent on-site housing.

It also voted in favor of approving five variances needed for the project to move forward in its current incarnation, including several that allow historic elements like a chimney and water tower to be built outside village code height restrictions. A special exception permit was also approved, which allows a residential apartment building in the village business district.

It was the housing vote, not the variances that divided members of the Sag Harbor community over the course of the last year and a half.

Throngs of people called for on-site affordable housing at a March 2007 public hearing on the project, and a subsequent letter from the Suffolk County Planning Commission mandating 20 percent on-site affordable housing left many believing it was a foregone conclusion. Sag Development Partners, in turn, expressed concerns that they would have to walk away from the project should they be forced to include on-site housing, and instead made a series of financial offers to the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust – a branch of the village’s own affordable housing plan. The final offer weighed in at just over $2.5 million in lieu of the 13 on-site units requested by the county.

Both the planning and zoning boards had to vote with a supermajority, or four of five members, in order to override the planning commission. After some initial hesitation by planning board chairman Jerome Toy this spring, the planning board overrode the county. Last month, with Bromberg personally choosing to recuse himself after being one of the biggest critics of accepting money in lieu of housing, the rest of the zoning board unanimously agreed to override the county in a straw poll vote. That vote was made official this Tuesday, without a single comment from the board or the scant few residents in attendance. 

Next week, on Tuesday, August 26, the planning board is expected to grant the project site plan approval – the last village approval needed for the project to move forward. A building permit will have to formally be issued by the village building department before any construction can begin on the site. No construction schedule has been set for the start of the project, although Sag Development Partners has promised the village it will only work during the off-season, and not during the summer season.

                                                       Group for the East End

While the Bulova project may be sailing easily through the end of its environmental review, the village is still in litigation with the Group for the East End over the planning board’s decision to give the project a negative declaration.

Under the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) of any project, a negative declaration means a project is not subject to further environmental review through an environmental impact statement as it does not feel the project presents the potential for a significant adverse environmental impact.

Since the environmental review of the Bulova project began in the village over two years ago, the Group for the East End has steadfastly called for an impact statement, but in March the planning board disagreed with the not-for-profit, adopting the negative declaration. Shortly thereafter, the Group filed suit against the village and its planning board.

The lawsuit, filed with the state supreme court, seeks to annul the negative declaration the planning board granted the project and asks the court to order the village to issue a positive declaration and require a draft environmental impact statement. The suit also asks the court to award the Group, and petitioners Eliza Werner, Kate Evarts, Dolores Fenn, Carol Magidoff and Barry Magidoff the costs and disbursements of this action and other relief “the court deems just and proper.”

Last week, the village responded to the Group’s suit through village attorney Anthony Tohill. In his submission to the court, he argues for dismissal of the suit on a basis that the adoption of the negative declaration is not “ripe for judicial review” as any SEQR review is incident to a site plan review. Site plan review, argues Tohill, had yet to be completed when the Group filed its suit this spring and is still yet to be finished by the village planning board. Until the board has awarded site plan approval – the last action in a review – the case law argues no party could be injured by the negative declaration.