For some restaurants, it is almost like a right of passage upon moving into Sag Harbor — being cited by code enforcement for having too many seats.
As a business, we understand the need to capitalize on the summer season and the abundance of people who come to our region enjoying our beaches, our vistas and thankfully, our downtowns.
And this summer, after a few shaky years following the decline of the housing market and the Great Recession, Sag Harbor was absolutely back in business.
One gauge? The number of tickets issued to local restaurants for violations of code compliance. According to the village attorney, it was a banner year.
Last week, attorneys representing LT Burger approached the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) seeking a variance to increase the restaurant’s seating by 21 seats, from 56 to 77. Walking into LT Burger, this seems to be a reasonable request in terms of space and the fact that even with 77 seats, the restaurant would still be far below the occupancy limits dictated under state fire codes.
However, we think ruling in favor of this application sets a dangerous precedent at a time when we believe the village board of trustees needs to take a hard look at the issue of restaurant seating and parking in Sag Harbor.
There are a number of issues on tap here. First, there are restaurants, like LT Burger, who could easily accommodate more patrons in their dining rooms than allowed under village code.
Then, there is the introduction of outdoor seating — a development in Sag Harbor we support as we think it does lend a more vibrant aesthetic to the business district. But this should be looked at in terms of ensuring sidewalks can still be used by pedestrians and do not become defacto restaurant host stands.
And then, of course, there is parking. Do we have enough (probably not in season) to allow expansions in seating? Is there a way to look at parking in new ways so our downtown can develop? And do we, in fact, as a community want to see restaurants expand seating?
State fire codes set seating restrictions for LT Burger, and other restaurants far higher than what is allowed under the village code. Some restaurants have suggested this year the village abandon its own restrictions and instead look to those limitations.
While we think that would take things a step too far, we do think it is time for the village to take a comprehensive look at this issue.