A firm that has proposed 18 luxury condominiums on Sag Harbor’s waterfront filed suit against the village’s board of trustees this week over a new zoning code adopted in May that made the current condo proposal illegal by village standards.
On Tuesday the suit was filed in state Supreme Court. It alleges the village board employed a flawed environmental review of its revised zoning code, including failing to explore alternatives, which is required under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).
As a result of the code’s adoption, East End Venture’s attorneys William Esseks and Anthony Pasca note their client’s property cannot be developed as currently proposed, as the zoning of the parcel has been changed from village business district to office district, drastically changing what is possible on the property. Developers Michael Maidan and Emil Telal proposed the waterfront condo project over two years ago, although it has been presented in a number of different designs since it was originally brought to the village. East End Ventures has already received approval for a second condo project on West Water Street, which is in the throes of construction.
The new code restricts any development on the Ferry Road parcel to two stories, where three was allowed under its previous zoning, increases front yard and side yard setbacks by 10 feet and requires 7260 square feet of lot area per unit, rather than the 1250 in the prior code, reducing the number of allowed apartments to less than eight units.
In mid-July Sag Harbor building inspector Tim Platt wrote the village planning board informing them that under the new code the Ferry Road project, as it has come to be known, could not proceed as planned for these very reasons. The village planning board has been reviewing the project for over two years now, in the midst of a SEQRA review of the project when the new code was enacted.
After Platt’s letter was made public, project manager Mark D’Andrea charged the village had created the new code specifically to thwart the unpopular condo project, which village trustee Tiffany Scarlato – who spearheaded the zoning code re-write – adamantly denied. According to new village mayor Brian Gilbride, who served as a trustee on the board during the zoning code process, the suit was not surprising.
“This is what they have been saying all along, so it really is not a surprise,” said Gilbride on Wednesday. “I am confident that we did everything correctly, but maybe this was the developer’s plan all along. I am confident the village will prevail and we will see how this unfolds.”
While the village hosted numerous public hearings on the new code, which was revised several times, Gilbride said he did not remember a single protest from East End Ventures about the re-zoning of the parcel.
The village began revamping its code over two years ago in the wake of increased development in Sag Harbor. The village code had not been updated since 1984 and trustees said it was antiquated and needed to be streamlined for the benefit of village boards and applicants alike. The code focused primarily on Sag Harbor’s downtown, restricting new developments in size and placing an emphasis on historic preservation.
“This was a process that has unfolded over the last couple of years,” said Gilbride. “It was probably one of the most open processes I have ever been involved in. I certainly don’t remember anyone protesting this in the public hearings and we entertained every comment that was given to us. This will not deter us from what we as a board thinks is a good product of work.”
Village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. agreed with Gilbride’s assessment of the environmental review of the zoning code.
“I think that the village followed the provisions of SEQRA to a tee,” said Thiele on Wednesday. “I think, in fact, the village’s compliance was over and above what was required by state law. There was a full [Generic Environmental Impact Statement], numerous public hearings, and the public had input very early on in the process. I have seen this lawsuit 50 times and most filed by the same attorney and they have, in most cases, been wildly unsuccessful as I expect this case will be as well.”
According to Sam Israel, another attorney representing East End Ventures, a civil rights suit against the village is also in the works, although as of press time has yet to be filed.