Proposed Apartment Law in Sag Harbor Draws Criticism

Posted on 13 August 2010

For several months now, Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride has listened as a parade of residents have continually reinforced the fact there are likely hundreds of illegal apartments in Sag Harbor, each resident detailing the likelihood their own neighbors are likely in on the practice.

Without naming names, of course.

The speakers, which have appeared in a series of village board meetings, have spoken in support of, and opposition to, plans to expand an accessory apartment law in the village that would legitimize some existing, illegal apartments.

The expansion of the law would allow about 50 residents, who can show they have illegally operated an apartment in an outbuilding such as a barn or garage for five consecutive years, the ability to bring those units up to code and become legal rentals with amnesty. Two years ago, under then-mayor Gregory Ferraris, the village passed similar legislation targeted at those with illegal units within their primary residences with just a handful coming forward to bring their units up to code.

According to trustee Robby Stein, who spearheaded the expansion with former deputy mayor Tiffany Scarlato, the law is meant to address the safety issues inherent in illegal apartments, while simultaneously opening up a greater stock of rental housing in Sag Harbor.

However, as the board revises the draft legislation and continues public hearings, the law has recently come under fire by some village residents who have expressed concerns about it not protecting neighborhoods from too many apartments and other density issues. In addition, the fairness of the law has been questioned, as has the ability for village code enforcement to truly crack down on those not willing to legalize their units once the law is adopted.

During a village board meeting on Tuesday night, the tone was no different.

Stein opened the discussion by stating he wanted to see the issue left open to the public, while village officials continue to re-draft the law to address these concerns.

Deputy mayor Tim Culver said density was one issue, in particular, he would like to see addressed, specifically how to ensure 10 of the 50 units approved in the pilot program do not end up in one neighborhood.

That was just one of several concerns resident Paul Zaykowski said he had with the law, which he charged was so full of holes a truck could drive right through it.

Zaykowski started by stating he does not believe the expansion of the law will help affordable housing in the village, noting many village properties are owned as investments, and that a majority of these accessory units would not likely be rented to children by their parents in hopes of keeping them in Sag Harbor.

“I would be all for Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones renting out so their kids can stay here,” he said, adding the law would more likely be used as an income generator by people who already have enough money to purchase a $2 million home in Sag Harbor. Zaykowski also wondered what happens to those who don’t bring their units up to code.

Gilbride said once the law is passed, sometime this fall, village code enforcement will inventory the village in search of illegal units and cite them.

“That is going to cause a ton of disruption,” said Zaykowski, asking why code enforcement has not dealt with the numerous illegal apartments in the village already, or leave well enough alone.

“The problem is now that this has reared its head something has to happen,” said Gilbride.

“Part of it is hopefully for affordability, but the other part is for safety,” added Stein.

Zaykowski also questioned why someone who has broken the law for a number of years is given amnesty, and why he, as someone who has not broken the law and paid their taxes, would not be allowed to capitalize on the accessory apartment law by building his own unit.

“Your point is a good one,” said Stein, saying in the future, if they meet code, he would see no problem allowing new units to be built in the village.

“This is the first stage,” said Stein. “Let’s get what we know is out there in compliance.”

“If you really believe this is a safety issue and know they are out there, you should be enforcing the current law,” said former mayor and Sag Harbor resident Pierce Hance. “If there is a clear and present danger you should be acting on it. That is where the village responsibility lies and you are not acting on it.”

Hance said he doubted the law would ultimately help affordable housing in the village on either end of the spectrum and encouraged the board to deal with what is out there now before changing the law.

“Let’s enforce the code, get a level playing field without safety issues and then address what to do,” said Hance. “Let’s not award the bank robber after he is gone and give him the money anyway.”

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