By Kathryn G. Menu
Plans that were seemingly doomed after last month’s Sag Harbor Village Planning Board meeting to allow Gerard Wawryk to create an outdoor dining space at Page at 63 Main, may have been revived after a prolonged discussion with the planning board Tuesday night led to a potential change in the plan.
Wawryk changed his application last month from its original proposal — seeking now legal outdoor seating in an area behind Page at 63 Main under the village code provision that allows restaurants to apply for outdoor seating, provided it does not increase the number of seats allowed in a restaurant and only makes up 20 percent of the seats that business is entitled to.
Originally, the area was proposed to have high tables where patrons could wait for a table or take-out food from the restaurant, although they would be allowed to carry out drinks and take out finger foods while they waited.
In both the original and current scenario, no service is expected in this part of the restaurant — patrons will have to go inside to get libations or a snack.
While the public hearing on the application was closed last month, on Tuesday night the board reopened the hearing to allow for a new plan when attorney Dennis Downes agreed to make concessions after board members expressed continued concerns over the parking and traffic impacts inherent in Wawryk’s proposal.
Planning board chairman Neil Slevin began the session noting his reservations in approving Wawryk’s application. With board members Greg Ferraris and Jack Tagliasacchi both abstaining from voting on the application, Wawryk needs the approval of Slevin, as well as planning board members Nat Brown and Larry Perrine to gain approval.
Downes began his argument by noting that while Slevin has expressed concerns about traffic on Division Street being backed up by trucks loading beverages and food from that street rather than the parking area Wawryk hopes to transform into an outdoor seating area, that is already a reality — for Wawryk and several other restaurants on Main Street.
“The simple fact is they do not need to keep this as a driveway,” he said, noting the restaurant existed pre-zoning and has at least 118 parking credits as a result.
“That space in the back is free for him to use any way he wants just like any of the other restaurants east of Main Street,” said Downes.
Downes proceeded to show photographic evidence of other restaurants using Division Street as a loading area. He also questioned what he said were recent applications by Muse in the Harbor and Madison & Main for outdoor dining spaces that were approved without this scrutiny.
“I am not picking on any of these restaurants,” he said. “The owners are doing what they have to do to stay alive.”
Sag Harbor Village Attorney Denise Schoen said she would look into applications by both those restaurants to ensure they were within compliance.
“So we shouldn’t be held to any standard different from the rest of the restaurant community,” said Downes. “We are entitled to use that backyard and we are pulling our seats legally from the inside.”
Slevin said he did believed Downes’ argument presented “apples to oranges,” adding the examples of on-street loading of food and beverages for restaurants in Sag Harbor only proved this situation could exacerbate an already difficult situation in terms of traffic and parking.
“We are not required to have off street parking,” replied Downes.
“You have an existing site plan that shows what is allowed to be there and you are asking us to make a change to a site plan and my personal feeling is it is not a good idea to complicate flow of traffic,” said Slevin.
Downes countered Wawryk is attempting to take seats from inside a restaurant and move them outside, and on private property.
Schoen noted Wawryk does need site plan approval and a special exception use permit from the board to move forward.
According to special exception use standards under the 2009 village code, in addition to needing sufficient lot area and ensuring the proposed use will not impact adjacent property owners, among several other standards parking is specifically laid out as something that must be provided for.
Downes continued to argue because the restaurant building is pre-existing, non-conforming it already complies with those standards.
Schoen countered for the special exception use permit she did not believe adequate parking and traffic flow questions fell into the pre-existing, non-conforming use category. If that was the case, she noted, the 2009 code revision asking the board to look at parking when applications require site plan approval and a special exception permit would virtually not apply to any existing restaurants in Sag Harbor.
“The point is I am not about to make a bad situation worse,” said Slevin, wondering what would happen if all establishments on Main Street with rear parking areas closed them off.
“All those seats we have in the restaurant, those seats are exempt from parking whether they are in the restaurant or not,” said Downes.
Perrine said he agreed with Slevin.
“Regardless of what it says on a site plan, right now that driveway is being used to park cars,” said Perrine, agreeing with Slevin that anything the board approved to eliminate that parking area would result in those vehicles needing to go elsewhere in Sag Harbor — a village rife with parking issues.
Downes said he would bring a plan back to the board including some parking in the area.
Environmental planning consultant Rich Warren advised the board to carefully review other applications in Sag Harbor prior to its next meeting, on August 27.