Dow Proposal Draws Neighbor Concern

Posted on 29 September 2011

Elizabeth Dow announced plans last fall to buy the historic Madison Street building that once housed the former Sag Harbor United Methodist Church congregation.

Informally, her plans to transform the interior of the church into her wall covering workshop, interior design studio and retail space was largely embraced by village officials, who agreed to change the zoning on the property from residential to village business district in December of 2010.

At public hearings regarding that change in zoning, not a single resident opposed the action or Dow’s plans for the former church space.

Until now, that is.

Almost a year later, as Dow begins the formal environmental review of her proposal with the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board, a small group of neighbors have emerged asking the planning board to ensure the historic neighborhood they reside in is protected should Dow eventually sell it to another developer.

On Tuesday night, Dow laid out her plans for the building, which includes the creation two offices within the former church, as well as an interior design studio and retail space for her company, Elizabeth Dow Mixed Media. The firm has its wall coverings displayed at The Smithsonian and in The White House, and offers one of the country’s most sought after internship programs.

Dow also hopes to construct an addition to the rear of the church to accommodate a 1,427 square-foot accessory apartment. Landscaping, creating a private courtyard, picnic table and a new means of egress at the rear of the church is also proposed.

The application will also require approval by the village’s zoning board of appeals as it does not meet setbacks and has already received favorable reviews from the village historic preservation and architectural review board.

Dow has already earned approval from the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees for the change in zoning on the property, which has remained dormant since former Southampton Town Councilman Dennis Suskind purchased the property in 2008.

When the village board adopted the change in zoning, it did place covenant restrictions that will run with the land. The covenants protect the property from ever being developed into a convenience store, bar or tavern, laundromat, dry cleaning business, movie or live theatre, gym, yacht sales center or any kind of food service business.

According to neighbor William Monahan that may not go far enough to protect the neighborhood from future development.

“This is a commercial use in the center of what is now a residential district,” said Monahan.

The former church building sat on the very edge of the village business district until its zoning was changed, but does have residences that sit on the remaining three sides of the property.

Monahan also charged that a raised terrace on the south side of the building would overlook a neighbor’s outdoor shower.

While Dow’s business might not put a strain on the neighborhood, Monahan urged the board to consider future businesses that might be developed on the property.

Neighbor Fred Mayer said his concerns lay with the landscape plan. He wanted to be assured any landscaping would not encroach on his property. Mayer said he would also like to see the landscaping pushed about 10-feet back from the street so he can maintain his view of downtown Sag Harbor.

He also asked the board to ensure any chemicals are properly stored and disposed of, and that lighting is controlled on the property.

Architect Chris Coy noted Mayer’s home dates to 1797 and his own house, also next to the church was built in 1810. Coy said he understood Dow’s business was quiet in nature and said he supported “reasonable development” at the church, but wanted to be assured that the neighborhood was protected from more invasive developments in the future.

Dow said that her studio uses green methods in its wallpaper construction — the main products used are large rolls of paper and low VOC paint.

Dow also offered to personally go over every aspect of the landscaping plan with Mayer, noting it is a plan “in development” and designed by Sam Panton of Terradesign Landscape Design to be kept “as natural as possible.”

In terms of lighting, Dow said the only lighting she was concerned about was in the parking lot, to ensure no one tripped and fell if they were in the lot after hours.

Before she could address Monahan’s concerns, planning board chairman Neil Slevin quieted Dow stating this was not necessarily the forum for her to defend herself. On Wednesday morning, Dow’s attorney Tiffany Scarlato said the change in use was approved with covenants the village put in place to protect the neighborhood.

She added that any change in use would trigger site plan review by the village planning board.

“When we went through this almost a year ago, we did a comprehensive investigation, as did the village, on what would be inappropriate uses in a residential neighborhood,” said Scarlato.

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