The Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday acknowledged out loud what many residents of Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest and Ninevah already know just by looking around — that Sag Harbor’s historically African American neighborhoods are communities in transition.
Lately, the neighborhoods, which have begun to call themselves by the acronym SANS, have seen buyers coming in to purchase original houses from longtime owners. Often, those new owners present Sag Harbor’s regulatory boards with grand plans for larger houses with amenities like pools. And in some cases, the new owners are not residents but developers who operate under the names of limited liability corporations.
The ZBA’s acknowledgment of the status quo emerged during a discussion of a proposed new house at 47 Terry Drive in Azurest, whose owner, George Spadoro, sought six variances, including what ZBA members said was a hefty pyramid variance. After a handful of neighbors stood up to oppose various aspects of the project, it failed to win support from ZBA members in a straw poll. Board member Susan Mead suggested the two sides come together to gain mutual understanding.
“Because this is a neighborhood in transition, and the homeowners know that — this is a delightful couple, I think they would be good neighbors — take it up with the new administrators of the homeowners’ association,” Ms. Mead told Brian DeSesa, the attorney representing the project. “Make a presentation. Put some more meat on the renderings so you have a better idea of what the final product is. You have a lot of opposition, but it would be nice to see you come back with a plan that is more acceptable. I would like to see this given the opportunity to work itself out a bit.”
Plans for the new waterfront house aren’t set in stone. There are no architectural renderings yet, just a general survey showing where it would be built and a sketch representing its massing. However, Mr. DeSesa explained several aspects in detail. The house will have a new, low-nitrogen septic system installed on the street side, and the old septic system, located on the waterfront side of the house, will be abandoned.
According to Mr. DeSesa, much of the property is paved with asphalt, but some of that coverage will be replaced with permeable paver stones and a rain garden is proposed as well, to help control the flow of stormwater on and around the property. He said the proposed lot coverage is actually decreasing, from 36 percent to 33 percent, but it still needs a variance because it is over the village code’s permitted lot coverage of 25 percent. A pool once included in the plans has been abandoned, largely due to the input of the neighbors, Mr. DeSesa said.
“This has been a long road for this application. Some of the history is important,” he told the ZBA. “This property has been before the Harbor Committee for approximately 17 months in different iterations.”
The house would need a pyramid variance for more than 7,200 cubic feet of protrusion into the sky plane — of which about 3,000 cubic feet is already permitted on the current house. The size of the variance requested drew the ire of Michael Pierce, a part-time resident who has a house across the street.
“We think the variance being sought here is going to be a detriment to our property,” he said. “An additional 4,000 cubic feet is going to reduce our view, our sunlight, create shade, bring mold. We already have problems growing plants there.”
Michael Williams, a nearby resident, said he was concerned about the variances requested for the cellar door and window wells, where relief of 3.6 feet and 4.8 feet are requested on the west and east side, respectively. He urged the ZBA to ask the fire department to analyze the variance requests.
“These are very narrow lots,” he said. “I think that both of the neighbors are nonconforming in terms of the 10-foot setback. They might be 8 feet away, but after the vegetation, the fir tree vegetation, there are very narrow corridors. When you talk about these window wells, you make it very hard for anyone to come in there. I’m more concerned about fire safety than anything else.”
ZBA member Scott Baker agreed with Ms. Mead’s suggestion, while member Robert Plumb flat-out opposed the variance requests.
“My feeling is that this is a critical building both for the history of the neighborhood and this particular stretch of the coastal area,” he said. “In contrast to what’s across the street, it’s something that’s clearly larger and, unfortunately, probably precedent-setting. It’s a juncture for that neighborhood. I know you can’t stop progress, but you can try to work with what was the original concept in the neighborhood. Neighborhoods are important. Why would you allow this monolith built in the highest point of the street? I find it very hard to justify.”
ZBA chairman Tim McGuire said he felt the ZBA “owes it to the community to be careful about what we allow, but still allow for modernizing homes and recognizing we are in a different world.”