ZBA Grants All Variances For West Water St. Condo Project

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A view of 2 West Water Street with land in the foreground for a possible future use of a public park. Peter Boody photo

With the fate of Sag Harbor’s proposed John Steinbeck Waterfront Park on many minds, the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday voted with little discussion — except for a scolding from board member Susan Mead — to grant all nine variances developer Jay Bialsky has been seeking to build a three-unit condominium at 2 West Water Street where a former motel-turned-residence now stands.

Board member Bob Plumb opposed the decision.

The board’s vote was a major hurdle for the project, which some critics have called too massive for the narrow three-quarter-acre waterfront site. It required a height variance to 44.5 feet, 9.5 feet higher than the zoning code allows, and a variance to allow a third story where only two are permitted.

Mr. Bialsky is under contract to sell a 1.25-acre adjoining property at 1,3,5 Ferry Road to the Town of Southampton for acquisition as open space under its Community Preservation Fund program. Sag Harbor would manage it as part of a proposed waterfront park on a triangular lot next to the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge, named for John Steinbeck.

Ms. Mead commented before the vote Tuesday that she hoped the board would never again be put in the position of having to weigh a variance application “like a caboose.”

“We couldn’t connect the two” issues — the condo proposal and the adjacent park plan — “until last week,” she said, apparently referring to Mr. Bialsky’s offer to the board on October 3 to consider any variance to be granted as void if the CPF deal falls through.

In addition to the height and third-story variances, the condo proposal also required variances to allow each of the three proposed condo units to far exceed the zoning code’s limit of 2,500 square feet in floor area. They will range instead from 8,750 square feet to 10,224 square feet.

Even so, the project represents a 75-percent reduction in density from the grandfathered eight residential units and three commercial units that are legally allowed on the property. The previous owner, Greystone Development, was proposing a 13-unit condo project before it sold the property to Mr. Bialsky.

Mr. Bialsky’s proposed condo will contain 26,077 square feet of floor area compared to 11,000 feet in the existing building on the property, a former motel that was converted into a residence by previous owner Bruce Davis, the owner of 1-800-LAWYER. But after a lot-line modification now pending before the Planning Board, the site will more than double in size from 14,624 square feet to 30,030 square feet.

The proposal still needs a wetlands permit from the Harbor Committee, which deemed the developer’s application complete and ready to review on Monday; approval from the Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation; and site plan approval from the Planning Board.

It also requires the lot-line modification from the Planning Board, one effect of which will be to create the separate parcel to be sold to the Town of Southampton for preservation. The lot-line change — which will convert the three tax lots at 1,3, and 5 Ferry Road into a single lot and shift the boundary line to enlarge the parcel at 2 West Water Street — is a condition of Mr. Bialsky’s contract with the town for the CPF sale.

The board’s findings and rationale for granting the variances were presented in a 12-page finding of fact and determination written by village attorney Denise Schoen, which board chairman Robby Stein asked her to summarize before Tuesday’s vote.

She noted that the board had asked for two modifications at the public hearing on the application last month and both are included in the final plan: a wider breezeway through the structure to allow for a view of the water from the street and a five-foot setback for the third floor to break up the mass of the façade. She said the developer also had agreed to increase side yard and rear yard setbacks to minimize the variances necessary.

“In looking at this,” Ms. Schoen said, “the board took into consideration” that — although the size of the building “on one portion of the property” will be more than doubled in size — density will be reduced from a possible 14 to three units and any business use will be eliminated.

In the findings drafted by Ms. Schoen and approved by the board, the panel acknowledged that although it “considered the proposed sale of a portion of the property for CPF purposes and the proposed lot line modification, those elements of the overall project are not within the purview of the ZBA.”

But the panel added that, because it became apparent during the review process “that a portion of the legal underpinning for the proposed variances includes the significant public benefit derived from the (a) concentration of development on the western portion of the property” at 2 West Water Street; “and (b) the sale and ultimate creation of perpetual public open space on the remaining portion of the property, the applicant has voluntarily offered to condition issuance of the requested variances on consummation of the sale.”

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”