By Kathryn G. Menu
A proposed restaurant at Baron’s Cove Inn was unanimously approved by the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board on Tuesday night, despite continued protests by neighbors. Some residents continue to question the legality of the restaurant under the village code and the potential noise they feel could impact them.
Beginning in the spring of 2011, owners KBR Associates announced they planned to incorporate a restaurant into the Baron’s Cove property as part of a redevelopment of the inn with the help of Cape Advisors, owners of the condominium project at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory on Division Street.
At the time, Cape Advisors served in a management role for KBR, but has since contracted to purchase the West Water Street, Sag Harbor property.
Starting in 2011, the entities proposed demolishing an existing 768 square-foot office that connects to the motel and building a new 3,710 square-foot, two-story restaurant, featuring 79 restaurant seats on the second floor and an eight seat bar with lobby area and retail space on the first floor.
The restaurant will feature three patios, two of which look out over the water and the resort’s pool, which will also host a concession stand.
In the summer of 2012, after the project came back in front of the planning board after being on hiatus over the winter, neighbors as well as the not-for-profit Save Sag Harbor began to weigh in on the project. Some asked whether a bar space on a separate floor from the restaurant itself was legal under the village code. Others expressed concern about the noise impact the proposed bar and restaurant could have on the surrounding residential neighborhood.
Neighbors like Angela Scott said they were not opposed to the project itself, but were specifically concerned about the noise impact. Next door to Baron’s Cove Inn is the now defunct West Water Street condominium project, once the home of the bar Rocco’s, a late-night establishment which was a source of constant ire for many residents in that neighborhood.
Those concerns continued to find their way into the planning board’s meeting, albeit in written form, after village attorney Denise Schoen cautioned the board from allowing more public comment, since the record on the project had been closed.
Schoen’s response came as a result of chairman Neil Slevin’s suggestion that the board offer a public comment period for the handful of residents seated in the Municipal Building meeting room Tuesday night.
Schoen added that a letter, submitted by Save Sag Harbor, contained a question about whether or not the village code was being interpreted properly in this case. The letter raised concern about the possibility of Cape Advisors applying for an entertainment permit, required for all establishments that want to have live music indoors or outdoors in Sag Harbor Village. She said it would not be part of any formal record if in fact this case was appealed to a judicial body.
“The public comment period cannot go on forever,” she said. “At some point you do have to close it.”
Schoen said she was unsure what mechanism the board would use to reopen the hearing, but was not persuaded by the board to pursue that answer.
Board member Larry Perrine noted that at last month’s meeting the board had asked if anyone had more comments to make about the project and no one responded.
Board member Greg Ferraris added that issues challenging the building inspector’s opinion that this is, in fact, a legal accessory restaurant to the existing motel use as proposed are not issues the board can address. In September, the board reached out to building inspector Tim Platt for a second time asking him to review the plans and their legality under the code. He agreed the plan, which does not require any variances from the zoning board of appeals, does in fact meet code.
Schoen added issues like whether or not the village should clarify the code could only be taken up by the village board of trustees.
Board member Jack Tagliasacchi wondered about the entertainment public permit referred to in the Save Sag Harbor letter and whether that would upend the series of covenants Cape Advisors has promised to put on the property – covenants that will run with the land.
Under those restrictions, Cape Advisors has agreed to have last call for any alcohol in the outdoor dining area on a proposed patio no later than 10 p.m., all outdoor background music will end at 9 p.m. nightly, last call at the restaurant’s bar will be no later than midnight and the hours of the restaurant bar will be tied to the hours of the dining room. However room service will still be permitted to sell alcohol.
Cape Advisors has also agreed to prohibit bottle service of liquor and will not allow cover charges or entry fees, which are common calling cards of nightclubs.
The pool will also be restricted to hotel guests and their guests and will be closed at 9 p.m. as will the outdoor concession area.
Schoen noted Cape Advisors would still have a right to apply for the entertainment public permit, a permit that was designed to legalize live, non-amplified music — limited to three musicians in a group — as well as background music “within the confines of an establishment,” according to the village code.
Under that chapter, businesses also have the right to apply to the village board for three special request permits annually that allow businesses to extend live music beyond the village’s 2 a.m. limitation and allows live music to continue until 3 a.m.
Obtaining these permits requires the approval of the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees.
“When the public feels threatened by the potential of an event, the obvious thing to do is to go to the village board of trustees and say, we don’t want Sag Harbor to be a party center,” said Slevin.
Slevin said he believed the work the board did with Cape Advisors to place restrictions on the property – a voluntary move by the firm, which was able to construct this project as of right according to Platt – will go a long way to alleviating noise.
The covenants – including those restricting outdoor music – said Schoen cannot be overturned without the planning board’s consent.
After the meeting, Scott – one of many neighbors concerned about the project – sent the planning board a letter stating she had hoped the board would reopen the public hearing because she believed the information about Cape Advisors seeking a special permit was raised after the public hearing was closed last month.
She added documentation Save Sag Harbor requested via the Freedom of Information Act was not available – not for lack of trying on the building department staff’s part – in a timely enough fashion for the organization to respond before the public hearing was closed.
“We respectfully request that the Planning Board put an end to this whole issue before it turns into another nightmare for the neighborhood,” said Scott and a group of neighboring property owners in a separate letter sent to the board. “We do not want to be sitting in our kitchens or on our back porches being forced to listen to background music or live entertainment all day long until 9 at night, everyday of the week.”