Public Comments on Harbor Heights Directed to Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals

Posted on 29 June 2011

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While the Sag Harbor Planning Board will lead the environmental review of a proposed expansion of the Harbor Heights Gas Station, the public has been encouraged to share concerns or support for the plan through the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals. On Tuesday night, the planning board acknowledged that the plan’s success depends on several variances the project must gain through that board to survive.

Owner John Leonard hopes to demolish the existing 1,874 square-foot gas station and erect a 1,842 square-foot building that will include a 1,000 square-foot convenience store. The new building would be constructed perpendicular to Route 114, connecting to the service station, which Leonard also hopes to expand with a new bathroom and office. Gas pumps would be moved perpendicular to the street to the north side of the property, covered by a 20-foot high canopy. The pumps would also be expanded to four double-sided pumps with eight nozzles.

In addition to planning board approval, the project needs six critical variances to move forward.

Leonard needs a variance to allow the new convenience store building to be constructed 15.6-feet from Hampton Street, where 50-feet is required by village code. The planned height of the store also needs a variance, as does the construction of the fueling station island 23-feet from Hampton Street where 50-feet is required. He also needs a variance to build a 20-foot canopy, which would be five feet over what code allows, as well as a variance to build a 1,000 square-foot convenience store, where the code only allows a 600 square-foot store. Leonard also needs two variances for landscape coverage.

Lastly, the project, as conceived, demands a variance for the expansion of the service station, which is considered a pre-existing, non-conforming use.

Without zoning board of appeals approval of these variances, the project would have to drastically change.

While some neighbors have come out in support and in opposition to the project, according to Leonard’s attorney, Dennis Downes, a number of agreements have been reached to ensure neighbors are satisfied with the end result.

A petition of support with 140 signatures has been filed with the village zoning board of appeals.

On Tuesday, Leonard’s engineer Chris Tartaglia presented plans (also shown to the zoning board) addressing a debate over the size of the proposed store, which, at about 1,000 square-feet, is 400 square-feet larger than allowed by code.

Similar to his argument in front of the zoning board, Tartaglia said the village’s definition of what constitutes retail space is blurry. He argued that while they have taken a conservative approach, including the whole building in their calculations, when spaces used by gas station patrons alone are taken out of the equation, the store falls under the 600 square-foot requirement.

“I own a retail business and in hearing you discuss it, it seems like you are being a little creative pulling out that square footage,” said planning board member Larry Perrine. “My retail store has a certain amount of square footage and I would never consider areas that didn’t hold product not a part of the retail shop.”

Tartaglia stressed that they were not trying to reduce the variance required or “get creative,” but were trying to show the “grey areas” in the code by illustrating how the space would be used.

Village attorney Anthony Tohill countered that the code was clear, demanding that, without a variance, a convenience store as accessory to a gas station is allowed if it is “600-feet of gross floor area.” He added the definition of “gross floor area” encompasses the store’s entire space — wall-to-wall — excluding stairways and cellar storage.

Sag Harbor Village environmental consultant Richard Warren said he was concerned that while the planning board was leading the environmental review that it was critical the zoning board weigh in on some of these issues, even informally, before the planning board can move on. He added that the public’s input was also crucial, and suggested the public bring their concerns to the zoning board so the village can ask Leonard to address them through studies on issues like traffic.

Downes said he would also like to seek the opinion of the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board on existing and as-of-right deigns for the new building, which the planning board agreed to.

“I want to work with you on this,” said Downes.

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