By Stephen J. Kotz
The Harbor Market and Kitchen overcame a major hurdle on Tuesday, July 21, when the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals signed off on its review of the project, granting it a variance for rooftop equipment while ruling that it did not require another, more difficult to obtain, variance for expanding a nonconforming use.
The store, which occupies the former Espresso Italian Market space at the corner of Division and Henry streets, has been the center of controversy since last winter when a group of neighbors grew alarmed by the appearance of a jumble of heating and ventilation equipment on the roof. They went on the offensive, saying the equipment was unsightly and would disturb their quiet street.
Over the past six months, the market’s owners, Abbey Warsh and Paul and Susana Del Favero, have sparred with neighbors before both the ZBA and Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review in an effort to get a certificate of occupancy for the business.
On Wednesday, Ms. Warsh said that while the battle had left her embittered, she felt relieved the ZBA had ruled in her favor and looked forward to overcoming the final hurdles, so she could focus on running her business.
“If I had known that it was going to be like this, I would have thought twice about opening a business in Sag Harbor,” she said. “I never expected the endurance the other side showed. I’m in shock about the way these adults behaved for the past six months.”
“That being said,” she continued, “every single day I come to work someone comes up to me and tells me ‘I live here year-round and I’m thrilled you are here.’ People get what I did. They appreciate it.”
Jeffrey Bragman, an East Hampton attorney who has represented the neighbors in the fight against the market, was out of town on Wednesday, but described the ZBA’s decision as “troubling,” and added he was happy the ARB still had to review plans for screening the rooftop equipment.
The market received approval from the ARB last year and a building permit to remodel the old Espresso’s building, but building inspector Tom Preiato later asked the ZBA to rule whether or not plans to move food preparation space to the basement constituted an expansion of a commercial use in a residential zone. If so, it would have required a use variance for which the standards are much tougher than a typical area variance.
In its ruling, the ZBA agreed with the testimony submitted by market’s attorney, Eric Bragman, that food preparation had been a long-time use of the basement and simply adding more equipment did not constitute an expansion.
While the board began to review the market’s application, the owners returned to the ARB to try to answer neighbors’ complaints about the rooftop heating and ventilation equipment. ARB members said they were not aware of just how much equipment was planned for the roof, but after another round of meetings, they appeared to be amenable to the market’s plans to provide visual screening and soundproofing, providing it get a pyramid-law variance from the ZBA.
This week, the ZBA agreed that the rooftop mechanical equipment was necessary to bring the market up to code and that the screening would eliminate the neighbors’ concerns.
Although neighbors complained when the market opened at the end of April without a CO, Ms. Warsh said she was guardedly optimistic that it would be just a matter of time before that would be accomplished.
In the meantime, “I’ve gotta sell a lot of pizza to pay my legal bills,” she said.