By Kathryn G. Menu
The Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals officially denied most of the variances needed for John Leonard to expand the Harbor Heights Service Station on Route 114 on Tuesday.
The official determination comes a month after the ZBA in a straw poll approved just one of three variances being considered, effectively ending a proposal to re-develop and expand the Harbor Heights station to include a convenience store without requiring significant revision to the plans.
The Harbor Heights project involves the redevelopment of the gas station and neighboring Sag Harbor Service Station, including the addition of a convenience store, the relocation and expansion of gas pumps on the property, as well a new curb cut to Route 114, striped parking and landscaping.
The lone variance approved for the project by the ZBA was a front-yard setback variance, allowing Mr. Leonard, through his corporation Petroleum Ventures LLC, to construct the retail convenience store in the existing Harbor Heights building, which is 15.6 feet from Route 114 where a 50-foot setback is required under the village code.
At the work session last month, board members—sans Jennifer Ponzini who was absent from the proceedings—agreed the variance should be allowed as it does not change anything from what exists today.
“It’s not self created, I think, because the building is already there,” noted ZBA chairman Anton Hagen.
However, the board was also in agreement that a variance request to reduce the required landscape buffers around the perimeter of the property from 30 feet to between 9 and 19.4 feet, should be denied, calling it the first defense to shield neighbors from the impact of the project. Board members also noted if the size of the project was reduced, the landscape buffers could be larger, meaning it is something that could be achieved without needing relief from the board.
The ZBA also denied a variance to allow the size of the convenience store to exceed 600 square feet. The proposal called for a 718-square-foot store, excluding mechanical equipment, utilities, a storage area and ADA compliant bathrooms.
A variance looking at whether the addition of new fueling pumps would constitute an expansion of the station’s pre-existing, non-conforming status was deemed moot by the board given the denial of the convenience store.
Ms. Ponzini abstained from voting on Tuesday’s determination, with the remainder of the five-member board in agreement on all the variance decisions.
Following last month’s meeting, Mr. Leonard’s attorney, Dennis Downes, said he would defer comment until a final determination was made and only after he spoke to his client. Mr. Leonard has 30 days to apply to the ZBA with scaled back plans for the project. He can also file a lawsuit challenging the ZBA’s decision.
In other ZBA news, on Tuesday the board tabled an application from Charles Susi of Madison Street to allow for the construction of a 14-by-28-foot swimming pool in the front yard. Variances were also requested to allow the pool within 17 feet of the front lot line, where 35 feet is required and 5 feet from the east side lot line where 15 is required.
Planner Matt Ivans, with Suffolk Environmental, argued because the property was on a corner lot and was undersized, his clients were faced with a hardship. When asked by village attorney Fred Thiele, Jr. whether he had been able to uncover any previous cases where the ZBA allowed a pool in the front yard, Mr. Ivans said no.
“I have a general reluctance to granting variances for swimming pools,” said board member Tim McGuire, adding that was particularly true when a pool was proposed to be just five feet from a property line.
“I don’t have an issue giving variances for pools,” said board member Brendan Skislock, “ but we are opening up a can of worms granting it for a front yard.”
“The problem is once we put one in the front yard, we have put one in the front yard,” agreed board member Scott Baker.
Mr. Ivans agreed to talk to his clients and return for the board’s March 18 session.
Also tabled to that meeting was Jennifer Tierney’s application for a swimming pool on Madison Street. Ms. Tierney is requesting variances from the village’s wetlands code to allow for the pool, which is within 47.2 feet of the wetlands, where 75 feet is required.
Chairman Hagen asked that Tierney’s pool plans be scaled back.