Sag Harbor Planners Warm to Textile Studio at Former Church

Posted on 27 August 2010

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On Tuesday night, members of the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board said they favored Elizabeth Dow’s proposal to convert the former Sag Harbor United Methodist Church on Madison Street into a center for textile design, retail and education, but asked for permission to tour Dow’s Amagansett studio before sending a formal letter of support to the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees.

Dow is in contract to purchase the former church from former Southampton Town councilman Dennis Suskind who bought the building in 2008 from a congregation no longer able to afford the upkeep of the aging, historic structure. However, that sale, for a reported $2.1 million, is contingent on Dow being granted a zone change by the village board of trustees to allow her textile and wall coverings design studio and internship program to be housed in the former church.

Earlier this month, trustees seemed amenable to changing the zoning on the property from residential to village business district, with the understanding that covenants would be negotiated between Dow and village officials to ensure it not become a nightclub or convenience store should she ever sell the church.

If Dow is granted the change in zoning, she will still have to undergo review by the planning board, but earlier this month trustees asked the planning board to weigh in on the general concept before they moved forward.

On Tuesday night, Dow’s attorney Tiffany Scarlato presented the proposal to the planning board. Dow hopes to use the former church in what Scarlato calls “a gentle reuse,” bringing the Elizabeth Dow Studio to Sag Harbor, where the company’s wall coverings and textiles would be produced and sold in a retail interior design center. Dow’s internship program, listed in the top 100 American internships by the Princeton Review, would also take place at the church, which would boast an apartment to accommodate employees or students.

Scarlato believes that the property will be able to accommodate an on-site septic system and will not need additional parking for the change in use.

Dow has already reached out to neighboring property owners, said Scarlato, and received “overwhelmingly positive” responses to the concept.

“Elizabeth wants this to be a community project and is willing to work with the community to alleviate any concerns they might have, as opposed to a private residence where village residents would have very little control over anything that would happen there,” said Scarlato.

Board member Jack Tagliasacchi wondered if textile design involved heavy machinery, which could prove noisy for neighbors, although Scarlato said she believed the design process did not involve heavy machinery.

“Is it possible if a couple of us want to go and see the facility,” asked chairman Neil Slevin, referring to the company’s current home in the Amagansett Applied Arts Building.

“I think that would be very positive,” said board member Gregory Ferraris, who recused himself from making any decisions regarding the application, as he is Dow’s accountant and aided her in pricing out the cost of this particular project.

Scarlato agreed to arrange a visit in the next two weeks.

“A project like this is probably good, not only to maintain the building itself, but also to create activity on that side of the village,” said Tagliasacchi.

In other planning board news, the board scheduled two public hearings for next month. The first is for Edward Burke, Jr.’s proposal to allow office uses in his 39 Division Street building. While the property is zoned residential, since rehabilitating the structure, Burke has created five office spaces within the building, and is seeking to legalize those uses through the village planning board.

In addition to planning board approval, Burke will also need variances from the zoning board of appeals, including for parking.

A public hearing will also be held on a proposed addition at James Giorgio’s 127 Main Street Building, which currently houses Lifestyle. Giorgio hopes to add 740 square-feet to the rear of the existing 810 square-foot building.

The public hearings will be held at the board’s September 28 meeting, which begins with a work session at 5:30 p.m.

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