Concerns Emerge as John Jermain Memorial Library Expansion Begins its Review

Posted on 25 November 2009

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John Jermain Memorial Library Director Catherine Creedon addresses the planning board at its Tuesday, November 24 meeting.

After just one work session in what is expected to be an extensive review of the proposal to renovate, restore and expand the historic John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML), the village planning board identified several potential hurdles surrounding parking, setbacks and the extension of the village sewer system to accommodate the new library space.

On Tuesday, November 24 the planning board held a work session on the library proposal, which was approved for $10 million in funding by members of its library district – defined by the Sag Harbor Union Free School District boundaries – in June. The project will repair and restore JJML, which was first constructed in 1910, and add a three-story, 7,000 square-foot addition at the rear of the historic landmark.

JJML Director Catherine Creedon opened the meeting by giving the board a quick overview of the library’s decade-long crusade for an expanded library in Sag Harbor, which culminated in June’s referendum with 84 percent of votes cast favoring the library board’s proposal.

Creedon noted that since the library board first began its quest, library membership has grown, a trend that she added began in 1987 with the introduction of computers in the library.

Creedon said with this growth, collections are overcrowded, program space is lacking and the library is unable to meet demand for its print and computer resources. In addition to increasing spaces for programming, historic preservation and for the library’s collection, the expansion enables the library to restore the historic building. It will also improve the mechanical systems including electrical and heat and air systems, which Creedon currently has to personally jump start on cold winter mornings, and bring the library into Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, make the three floors handicap accessible and bring it into line with standards for libraries in the State of New York.

Newman Architects principal Richard Munday said from a design standpoint, his firm hopes to create an addition that would not take away from the original, historic structure. He acknowledged the library is aware they will require variances from the zoning board of appeals for setbacks, as well as a variance for the height of the addition, although the addition does not exceed the height of JJML as it stands today. The addition will be made of masonry, glass and metal.

“What we attempted to do was draw the addition in as much as possible so our intrusions, beyond the setback lines and beyond the skyline, are as small as possible,” said Munday.

David Emilita, the library’s environmental consultant, outlined a brief plan to deal with traffic and parking concerns – an issue former library board president and current planning board member Greg Ferraris noted has been one of the top concerns of residents during the decade-long debate over what was the appropriate way to expand JJML.

Currently, said Emilita, the library is 56 spaces short and with the expansion will need an additional 28 spaces on top of that. Emilita said the library intended to meet with the village ZBA to address this issue. However, said Emilita, traffic studies taken in 2003 and 2009 show that two-thirds of library patrons are not just visiting the library when they drive to JJML, but are traveling to other destinations. The percentage of people who drive to the library has also dropped during that period, said Emilita, while the number of patrons who bike or walk to JJML has increased.

“So we are seeing a shift,” he said.

According to Emilita, the library would like to work with village trustees to explore introducing parking on Union Street and making that road one way, moving west towards Main Street. It would also like to explore having additional village parking spaces striped on Main Street and other adjoining streets.

Both JJML land use attorney Gil Flanagan and library board of trustees members closed the presentation by asking the board to expedite the review of the project through scheduling extra meetings for the planning board and other village boards who will review the plan.

“We are in a way a municipal project, funded through tax dollars,” said Peterson, adding the longer the review takes, the more it will cost.

Another plan proposed by the library includes abandoning their existing septic system and petitioning the village board of trustees to extend the Sag Harbor Sewer District 282-feet to enable JJML to connect with the sewage treatment plant. The Suffolk County Health Department encouraged the conversion, said Emilita.

Sag Harbor Village Environmental Planning Consultant Richard Warren said he believed a provision of the village sewer law required any property owner in the service area to hook up to the system.

“We should understand what happens with those property owners as the district gets extended,” advised Warren.

Ferraris said the cost of hooking up any residences as a result of the extension may fall on the shoulders of JJML and urged the library to approach the board of trustees on that issue as well as the issue of creating new parking spaces in the village and making Union Street a one-way street.

“Parking and traffic were the biggest issues we dealt with at the time [he was library board president],” cautioned Ferraris.

Warren also asked Creedon what kind of dialogue the library has had with the two rear adjacent property owners.

Creedon said the library has been in regular contact with the Jefferson Street neighbor, Ann Castaldo.

“I believe she still has concerns, but I also believe she feels grateful to the library for keeping her in the loop every step of the way,” said Creedon, noting plans were scaled back on that side of the expansion in deference to Castaldo.

A limited liability corporation, said Creedon, now owns the Union Street property, the principals of which she has been unable to reach despite numerous attempts.

Warren noted village engineer Paul Grosser will need to review all plans for the project, including the sanitation proposal, and the board should expect a report from him. Tammy Cumha, a representative from Grosser’s office, said the engineer already has preliminary concerns, specifically about the proposed 3.5-foot setback on a section at the rear of the property.

“[That setback] is a concern with the New York State building code and also with the fire commissioner for access and safety in order to get emergency vehicles around there if necessary,” she said.

Munday said he was aware of the problem and would explore whether the project would need a variance from the state.

The library project will continue to meet with village boards next month. It is currently scheduled on the December 10 historic preservation and architectural review board calendar, as well as at the next planning board meeting on December 22.

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