By Kathryn G. Menu
Last month, members of the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) said they believed a 102-foot canopy meant to shelter an expanded gas pump island at the reimagined Harbor Heights Service Station on Hampton Road was a structure.
What they didn’t say was whether or not they viewed it as an accessory or primary structure, and while that question has now been thrown back to Sag Harbor building inspector Tim Platt for an interpretation, the answer has far reaching ramifications on what has become one of the village’s most controversial development projects.
For almost three years now, John Leonard has been before the Sag Harbor planning board and ZBA with his proposal to redesign the Harbor Heights Service Station property — a gas station on the edge of the village that has been in operation for over a century.
Leonard has proposed demolishing the existing 1,872 square foot building, now faded blue with chipped paint facing the four gas pumps that basically sit in the right-of-way on Hampton Road. In its place, but moved perpendicular to the roadway, Leonard originally proposed to construct a 1,842 square foot building, which would include a convenience store — legal as an accessory use to a filling station under the village code, but only under strict limitations.
The new building was also proposed to contain office space for the gas station, and is pushed back into the property to connect with the existing Sag Harbor Service Station. Leonard also wants to move the gas pumps off the roadway and into the property, perpendicular to Hampton Street and facing the proposed store.
The project, which needs eight variances to be approved, has come under heavy criticism by the not-for-profit Save Sag Harbor, as well as neighbors including the owners of the adjacent and historic St. David African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church — the AME Conference of New York.
On Tuesday, Leonard’s attorney Dennis Downes came back with a new proposal to reduce the number of variances it needs from the ZBA.
While the board halted Downes and Leonard’s engineer, Chris Tartaglia, from making a presentation on those changes, according to a memo filed with the ZBA on May 13 the plan has been revised to maintain the existing footprint of the Harbor Heights building in lieu of new construction.
As a result, because the building is remaining in its current non conforming location, a front yard setback variance will no longer be required for the store, although it will still be necessary for the proposed canopy, which is setback 23.2 feet where 50 feet is required.
The memo also shows the applicants hope to almost meet landscape coverage requirements, will keep the original signage at the site and increase the landscape buffer on the side of the property near the church.
Lastly, the memo notes “per interpretation provided by the board at the previous meeting, the proposed canopy will now be considered as a primary building rather than an accessory structure.”
As a primary structure, the 23.75-foot canopy would no longer need a variance as the village code allows it to be 30-feet high.
However, the board took onus with the idea that it had determined the canopy a primary structure.
“We never did cover if it was a primary or a secondary structure,” said board member Brendan Skislock.
Board member Michael Bromberg added because the building inspector has not offered an official opinion on the matter it should be referred back to him. Until Platt asks the board to make a determination, Bromberg said the ZBA had no jurisdiction.
“This is too important,” he said. “I don’t want to fly blind. I would like this to go to building department to take a bite of the apple if they choose.”