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Praise and Concern Over Changing Streetscape

Posted on 25 September 2009

Much like the historic preservation and architectural review board, the Sag Harbor planning board was amenable, in theory, for plans to revamp the historic Main Street retail location that currently houses The Gallery and was once home to Chelsea Crossing. However, like the ARB, planning board members cautioned building owner James Giorgio that the ambitious plan, which includes raising the building and excavation to introduce a new basement level retail location, may be met by opposition by those against such a drastic change to the Main Street streetscape.

On Tuesday, September 22 Giorgio’s architect Chuck Thomas presented a preliminary plan to the board at the request of the ARB, which last month advised Thomas that while they thought the plan had merit, ultimately it was a large enough concept to warrant the planning board’s input. Similarly, on Tuesday, the planning board told Thomas he should seek public opinion and that of the village board of trustees before moving forward, as the plan requires the village to allow Giorgio to take roughly 11-feet of sidewalk to accommodate the new retail location.

According to Thomas and Giorgio, not only is 125 Main Street in dire need of repair, but it also presents challenges for business owners in the space, who cannot count on foot traffic with rickety stairways at the entrance to both first floor retail locations. Their plan involves restoring the whole of the building, and in that restoration a new foundation is necessary, said Thomas. As replacing the foundation will require lifting the building, Thomas has proposed adding an additional three-feet of space to a basement level and creating a new retail location, similar to the street-level retail space in The Latham House next door.

 “Given what the application is essentially asking to do, significantly alter village property and the village streetscape, you can imagine a lot will come down to historic preservation,” said planning board chairman Neil Slevin. “But most importantly, this is village property.”

Board member Greg Ferraris suggested the planning board could send a letter to the village board of trustees asking for their input.

 “Obviously, we are not here for an approval,” said Thomas. “We are here for a concept, for buying into a concept. If it seems possible this can work, then we will go down this road. If I get the reaction, ‘Not in my lifetime while I sit up here’ we will put our eggs back in the basket.”

Board members said in addition to trustee approval, Giorgio should expect issues with historic preservation and parking to be discussed at length should the project move forward.

 “Personally, I like the concept,” said Ferraris.

While the rest of the board seemed in agreement, there was concern about Giorgio developing a neighboring property, once the subject of a controversial three-story building application under a previous owner, and what the impact on Main Street would be with both changed drastically.

Giorgio assured the board he had no major plans for that space, which currently houses the life style clothing boutique, save a conservative expansion off the rear of that building. 125 Main Street, he said, presented a more urgent situation. Giorgio said one of the current businesses had plans to vacate at the close of October and his other tenant was struggling in the locale. The renovation, he said, would solve a number of these issues.

“It needs an investment,” said Giorgio of the property. “ But I can’t do that investment unless I know I can get a tenant in there that can survive.”

 “It seems perfectly within our role to make recommendations we think are good for the Village of Sag Harbor and that issue of viability is an issue for Sag Harbor,” agreed Slevin.

The board agreed to send a letter to the board of trustees asking for their review and expressing their interest in the project moving forward conceptually. 

In other planning board news, Giorgio was approved for changes to a stairway at the recently completed 32 Bridge Street development. While the board granted Giorgio approval for the minimal change, Slevin cautioned he would like to see these issues addressed by the board before they are constructed.

 “In the future, what we are going to do is when a site plan approval is granted one of the board members will be assigned to essentially work with the building department and make sure we see these changes early on and we get a chance to think about it while it is actually happening,” said Slevin.

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