Harbor Heights Debate Continues

Posted on 24 May 2012

In an attempt to wrap its arms around the reams of documents that have been submitted on the proposed expansion and redevelopment of the Harbor Heights Service Station, the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board agreed on Tuesday night that it would hold a special work session on the application on Wednesday, June 13 at 10 a.m.

The decision comes as the board continues to wrestle with its environmental review of the proposal. Meanwhile, public concern has also grown. In the last month, the planning board has continued to receive letters from residents worried about the impact of the project, as well as correspondence from East Hampton attorney Jeffrey Bragman, who has been hired by Save Sag Harbor to represent the not-for-profit’s position opposing the project.

Over a year ago, station owner John Leonard proposed a full re-development of the Harbor Heights property which is at the edge of Sag Harbor Village on Route 114. The proposal includes the addition of a convenience store, a new layout for gas pump islands, more pumps and new curb cuts to make the station safer to enter and exit. A second business that operates on the parcel — the Sag Harbor Service Station — will also be slightly expanded under the plan to allow for a small office and bathroom. New landscaping, lighting and parking configuration are also proposed.

According to Leonard’s engineer, Chris Tartaglia, the most recent change to the project involves revision of a lighting plan which virtually removes all of the tall light poles originally proposed around the perimeter of the property. This change is an attempt to reduce any impact the lighting could have on the neighborhood. Lighting at a new curb cut, designed to make entry and exit to Harbor Heights safer, has also been toned down, said Tartaglia, with low level lighting planned. As it’s currently configured, there is no curb and vehicles barely pull off Route 114 before they are at the gas pumps.

A new noise study has also been submitted, said Tartaglia, which shows ambient noise from the Route 114 will far outweigh any new noise created by the expansion of the gas station or the convenience store.

On Tuesday night, Sag Harbor environmental planning consultant Rich Warren said with new information being filed here and there throughout the planning board’s review of the project, it was important for the board to sit down and try to digest the full scope of the project. At this point, said Warren, the planning board must consider whether or not the project has potential to cause even a single adverse environmental impact. If it does, Leonard will be required to complete an environmental impact study before the planning board can conclude its review.

Before it can do that, Warren asked Leonard to furnish a document showing how the project meets the village’s special exception standards, including a discussion about whether or not this constitutes an “intensification of use.” Warren said he would also like to see a rendering that shows what the whole project — store, gas station and service station — looks like from Route 114. Lastly, he encouraged the board to read through the numerous letters and emails the village has received about Harbor Heights in order to understand the public’s perspective.

What is difficult, noted village attorney Denise Schoen, is the fact the planning board must decide on the potential environmental impacts before the village’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA) can even weigh in on a litany of variances Leonard needs. Among them is a variance to allow him to almost double the size of a legal convenience store. If these variances are not approved, the whole scope of the project could change.

“You are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Schoen.

This is precisely Bragman’s worry.

In a letter to the planning board, Bragman notes the ZBA’s decision can change everything, including environmental impacts, associated with this project. To protect the power and independence of the ZBA, Bragman encouraged the planning board to make it clear that when it comes to environmental impacts the ZBA has its own jurisdiction and cannot be bound by any planning board decision.

Bragman suggested the planning board should “pause” its review and allow the ZBA to weigh in. But according to Schoen the law requires the planning board make an environmental determination before the ZBA can hear the case

At the close of Tuesday night’s meeting, residents Ruth Vered and Alexandra Leigh Hunt called out to the planning board for the right to express their worries about the project.

Planning board chairman Neil Slevin said now was not the time for public comment, but that there would be an opportunity — both before the planning board and the zoning board — at a later date.

“What you should be assured of is we do understand the public,” said Slevin. “We live here, we do receive these letters and do read them.”

“This is an irreversible decision and this should be well understood by the public,” said Vered.

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