Just a month ago, Elizabeth Dow officially became the owner of the former Sag Harbor United Methodist Church building on Madison Street. This week, the artist and businesswoman took several steps forward with the village boards towards approval to convert the historic building into her wall covering studio, retail space and internship program.
On Tuesday, Dow was able to secure a negative declaration from the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board — meaning her project does not pose the potential to inflict a significant adverse environmental impact. Directly following that meeting, she also earned a tentative approval from the village’s zoning board of appeals to convert the rear of the building into a 1,000 square foot apartment, which will be used by students in her celebrated internship program.
The decisions followed spirited debate by both boards, which praised Dow for the adaptive re-use she has proposed for the former church building. Both boards also discussed the impact aspects of her proposal could have on neighboring property owners.
Dow, who owns Elizabeth Dow Mixed Media, a textile and wall covering design studio and retail business, has proposed to convert the former church into a shop for her business. The converted building would also include 2,988 square feet of retail home furnishings and décor display area, office space and an accessory apartment for students accepted into her internship program.
On Tuesday night, the Sag Harbor Planning Board officially became the lead agency in the environmental review of Dow’s proposal. In addition, the planning board will also need to give the proposal site plan approval for Dow to officially move forward with her plans.
In a memo prepared by the village’s planning consultant Rich Warren, he suggested the board had enough information to consider adopting a negative declaration, ending the environmental review of the project and moving towards site plan approval discussions.
Before the board moved forward with that decision, Warren reviewed comments made by William Monaghan, a neighbor who has opposed the project.
Specifically, Warren’s memo notes that the size of the retail space — now below 3,000 square-feet — does fall below the village code threshold, removing the need for a special exception permit, one of Monaghan’s concerns. Secondly, said Warren on Tuesday night, Monaghan suggests in his letter that because the church property operated as a conforming residential property for at least two years, it has no pre-existing status to consider.
Dow’s attorney, Tiffany Scarlato, has argued the property has enough grandfathered parking on the site to allow for Dow’s plans — a concept supported by Warren and village attorney Denise Schoen after Warren completed his own parking calculations based on the village code.
On Tuesday night, Warren said the church use was a special exception use in the first place and the village code has no provisions under which a property abandons its special exception status by converting to residential.
Schoen, he added, has also reviewed the village code and agrees.
Despite that, Warren suggested the public hearing on the project, which has been open for several months, be continued so that the public can review final plans before next month’s January 24 meeting.
Both planning board chairman Neil Slevin and board member Jack Taggliasacchi said they understood some of the concerns expressed by neighbors. Specifically, said Slevin, the worry is that should Dow sell the property the now desirable, low impact business entering the boundary of the residential and village business districts could become a different kind of business.
Warren noted the village board of trustees has already agreed to covenant restrictions that will run with the property should it change hands to allow the property to be re-zoned to the village business district. The different spaces in the building could not be combined, he added without village approval.
“I think before we say okay we should look at what happens 10, 15 years down the road,” said Taggliasacchi, adding he supports the project.
The board agreed to adopt a negative declaration on the project moving it towards site plan approval.
Dow also received straw poll approval from four of five members of the village zoning board of appeals for an accessory apartment, which will be carved out of the existing rear portion of the building. That approval is pending a final layout plan for the apartment, which removes a planned deck on the third floor.