A group of neighbors filed a petition with the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board Tuesday night with 90 signatures calling John Leonard’s proposed expansion of the Harbor Heights Service Station on Route 114 “too ambitious.” They are asking the village to ensure that the expansion, and its appearance “preserve the heritage of Sag Harbor Village.”
At the same meeting, local non-profit Save Sag Harbor filed another letter with the planning board questioning whether or not the addition of a convenience store on the Harbor Heights property is even permitted as an accessory use under village law or if it constitutes the creation of a second, principal use on the property.
Leonard has proposed to demolish the existing 1874 square-foot Harbor Heights gas station building and construct a new 1,842 square-foot country market and cellar. He has also proposed to expand the second business that operates on the property — the Sag Harbor Service Station — by adding just over 300 square-feet to accommodate a bathroom and office.
In a recent change, Leonard has decided to connect the new Harbor Heights market to the service station and reduce the building’s overall height in an effort to reduce the number of variances needed by the village zoning board and to increase landscaping throughout the property.
Gas pumps on the property are proposed to be moved perpendicular to the street, covered by a 20-foot high canopy. According to Leonard’s attorney Dennis Downes, Leonard has decided to stop selling diesel fuel on the property and will remove a stand-alone, above ground diesel fuel tank during the course of renovation.
Downes said removing the sale of diesel fuel from the property would eliminate an average 1,000 truck trips to the station a year.
According to Sag Harbor Village environmental planning consultant Rich Warren, while the planning board will study general environmental issues related to the project, it is lighting, landscaping and traffic — the issues that directly affect neighboring property owners — that the board will have to take a critical look at during its review.
Sag Harbor Planning Board Chairman Neil Slevin said that he was surprised that the final plan Leonard has submitted shows what he called 1,200 square-feet dedicated to the convenience store. The village code prohibits a store larger than 600 square-feet, and Leonard will have to earn a variance from the zoning board of appeals to build a larger market.
“So the size of it is a major concern for us because we understand when the village code was amended that the size was specified because the community, through the board of trustees wanted to make sure that the neighborhood would not be affected,” said Slevin.
Slevin said he would like to see what the anticipated revenue stream from the convenience store is, as that would relate directly to any increase in business expected when the project is completed.
Board member Larry Perrine said he would like clarity from the village about how the board is supposed to calculate square-footage, whether they are looking at the gross floor area or just the sales area of the store.
Downes said he has attempted to get that very answer from Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Tim Platt, but has been unsuccessful as there is not a specific definition in the village code. He added that Leonard could not go through financially with the project if he is only allowed to construct a 600 square-foot store, which would leave him with one sales aisle.
“The economics of the store should not be driving the economics of the fueling station,” warned Warren, noting the store is supposed to be an accessory use, with the gas station driving the majority of revenue in the business.
While board member Greg Ferraris said the current plan is certainly better than what could be done as of right on the property, he questioned a study submitted by Leonard that said traffic would not increase if the project was constructed. He called the study “disingenuous” and said the addition of an overall 1,800 square-foot store “will certainly have an impact on traffic.”
Board member Jack Taggliasacchi said he doesn’t believe the store will be the driving force of traffic at Harbor Heights and that it would only be used by people who are at the station for gas.
Perrine countered that having the store on the site could drive traffic to Harbor Heights because of that amenity.
Before the matter was closed, Jackie Brody served the planning board with a letter from Save Sag Harbor asking the board to explore whether including a market on the property would be tantamount to allowing a new principal use, not a small accessory use. The organization cited the size of Leonard’s proposed market, noting the code specifically prohibits a market over 600 square-feet as an accessory use at a gas station.
Save Sag Harbor’s board of directors also asked that the planning board demand an environmental impact statement in the course of its review, noting this project does carry the possibility of causing a serious adverse impact to the environment.
Joy Lewis and her neighbor Ki Hackney Hribar, Hampton Street residents submitted the petition with 90 signatures questioning the scale of the project and calling on the village to protect a historic neighborhood.
“We are asking the planning and zoning boards to resist the pressure to allowing anything that resembles the sort of bold, over-lighted service station with a busy convenience store, big bright lights and an enormous sign that one sees on major highways, and, most importantly that the boards be guided by the intentions of the existing village code,” said Lewis and Hackney in their letter.
Leonard also has a petition running, from some neighbors as well as area residents supporting the project with between 150 and 200 signatures, according to Downes.