Sag Harbor Village has long been known for its historic aesthetic, particularly in the architecture of its residences tucked tightly together on small lots. Many of the homes were built for whaling captains, seamen and workers who toiled in the former Bulova Watchcase Factory.
The preservation of that aesthetic has fallen not just on the shoulders of homeowners, but members of the Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (ARB), which is charged with protecting the character of the village.
On August 14, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees will continue a public hearing on a new local law that addresses the jurisdiction of the ARB. Under the law, all improvements and changes within the historic district of Sag Harbor must receive a certificate of appropriateness from the ARB. Any projects needing site plan review by the Sag Harbor Planning Board — a review mostly reserved for commercial properties — would also need ARB approval, whether it is located in the historic district or not.
For many years, the ARB has been able to weigh in on residential projects throughout Sag Harbor Village, regardless of whether or not they were in the historic district. It was only a few months ago, when Sag Harbor attorney Dennis Downes mentioned the ARB would not have a formal say in the aesthetics of the proposed expansion of the Harbor Heights Service Station on Route 114 — which is outside the historic district — that ARB Chairman Cee Scott Brown reached out to village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. to find out where his board stood.
What Brown discovered was that during the last revision of the village code three years ago, the ARB’s jurisdiction was defined as being solely limited to the historic district.
For Brown, his concern is that sections of the gateways to the village — the first view people have of Sag Harbor — are not within the historic district and can now be improved with ARB input into aesthetics.
“All of the main arteries that feed into the village enter through non-historic district sections and it is the first impression people have,” said Brown.
He added that the board does not apply the same standard to homes outside the historic district as it does to homes within the historic district. But, he noted, being able to provide guidance about what designs have traditionally fit into Sag Harbor is not only a benefit to the village’s character overall but also helps homeowners.
“We have approved modular houses on Brandywine Drive, so we are not being too tough outside the historic district, but it does give someone who may have questions some important feedback when they come to us,” said Brown.
An example, said Brown, is a home just past Main Street on the Sag Harbor Turnpike. Outside of the historic district, the owners did not have to come to the ARB for approval of what Brown said was a 100-foot fence constructed out of PVC, a kind of plastic. Driving past it at night, Brown said the fence is literally blinding.
“My main concern is these gateways,” said Brown. “I think we are just trying to preserve the charm and unique quality of architecture in Sag Harbor that extends to the whole village even if it is being viewed under different criteria.”
Planning Board member Greg Ferraris — who was mayor during the code revision — said when looking at the code the trustees intention was to keep the ARB’s purview in terms of residences limited to the historic district.
“During the public hearing process on the code there were big concerns raised about having to get ARB approval for residences outside of the historic district,” said Ferraris. “The decision was based on those comments.”
On Wednesday village attorney Denise Schoen said the law is meant to increase the ARB’s role in terms of allowing it to review commercial projects outside the historic district, like the proposed Harbor Heights expansion.
“To me, it looked like a big loophole in the code that excluded commercial properties, which I believe should be reviewed particularly when they are in residential neighborhoods.”
The village board will consider the law at its August 14 meeting at 6 p.m.
In other news, the ARB is waiting for Yummylicious owner Danny Cheng to return and discuss lighting inside the Main Street frozen yogurt and ice cream shop. Last month Cheng agreed to change the wattage of the lighting at the store, following complaints by some residents, although others have praised the shop’s disco-like lighting.
Brown said he expected to hear from Cheng some time in the next month.