By Kathryn G. Menu
Sometimes just one sentence, or the lack thereof, can cause a lot of confusion.
Until 2009, when the Sag Harbor Village zoning code was rewritten, the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board (ARB) had jurisdiction over any project — commercial or residential — that required a building permit in the village, whether it was in the historic district or not.
While the 2009 code revision went as far as to define the different assessments the ARB should make depending on whether or not a project was within the village’s historic district, it left out one key sentence — that the ARB did in fact have jurisdiction over projects, commercial or residential, outside the historic district of Sag Harbor.
This year, because of that omission, the Sag Harbor building department stopped requiring projects outside of the historic district to seek ARB approval. This led the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees to consider amending the code to give that board jurisdiction over all projects in the historic district and commercial projects outside the historic district. However, at last month’s village board meeting the Sag Harbor Historical Society, Save Sag Harbor and ARB Chairman Cee Scott Brown asked the board to reconsider what they viewed as a jurisdictional change for the ARB, citing the importance of properties just outside the historic district but in the gateways to a village celebrated for its historic aesthetic.
They were heard and the village board instructed Sag Harbor Village Attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. to rewrite the code change to give the ARB purview over the entire village, still keeping a different, more lenient set of standards for properties outside the historic district.
That law was up for public hearing at Tuesday night’s Sag Harbor Village Board meeting. This time it was not support for restoring the ARB’s jurisdiction over the whole of the village, but opposition that emerged through one resident, Bruce Fletcher, who plans to build a home in the village.
Fletcher has been working on the project since 2011 and for close to a year worked with the Suffolk County Health Department to gain that board’s approval so he could apply for a building permit through Sag Harbor Village. On Tuesday night, Fletcher said after meeting with Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Tim Platt he learned the village was considering this code revision, a change he described as “adding another grueling step” to an already lengthy process to build a house.
“It seems to us in proposing a building totally in keeping with the neighborhood — in this case a three bedroom Cape — we should be able to get a decision without going to yet another committee,” said Fletcher.
Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said if it is in keeping in the neighborhood, Fletcher would likely not have a problem getting ARB approval fairly quickly. He added that in the last year, the village has allowed its attorney, Denise Schoen, to keep office hours to advise applicants on all the steps they will need to take to gain a permit.
“The way we were told, this was already something required in the past,” said Gilbride. “My understanding is this is not really adding anything.”
Thiele added that for the most part projects move fairly quickly through the village boards, as opposed to the county health department, which can require a lengthy approval process.
“I know the building inspector is not very fond of this expansion of this authority and I will thank him for this later,” joked Thiele.
Fletcher said he was not prompted by Platt, but rather by his concern over another layer of bureaucracy being added in an approval process.
“I don’t think this is helpful for the economy around here,” he said.
“I don’t blame you in coming here, but I am saying this could be a non-issue for you. Where this really comes in as important is in a project that really needs this type of scrutiny,” said Gilbride.
Thiele added the new code specifically did address the criteria the ARB should use in the historic district and outside of the historic district and that for whatever reason the specific sentence giving the ARB full jurisdiction was omitted.
The public hearing was closed. However, when Gilbride called for a motion to adopt the law he was met with silence by board member Kevin Duchemin. The only other member of the board in attendance, Ed Gregory, asked that the decision be held one month while he looked at ARB guidelines for approval.
The next Sag Harbor Village Board meeting will be held on October 9 at 6 p.m.