Despite protests by neighbors, some of whom had to battle for the right to speak, on Tuesday night the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board issued a negative declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) for a proposal to create a restaurant space at Baron’s Cove Inn on West Water Street
That means the planning board believes the proposal does not carry the potential to cause a significant adverse environmental impact on the community.
Cape Advisors, which is developing the property, will still need to gain site plan approval from the Sag Harbor Planning Board for the 79 seat restaurant. Cape Advisors has asked to demolish an existing one-story lobby/office at Baron’s Cove Inn, which the firm is in contract to purchase, and replace it with a two-story restaurant.
While the restaurant seating will be located on the second floor, the proposed bar space for the restaurant is on the first floor next to the lobby. It is that aspect of the plan that has drawn the ire and concern of neighbors, as well as the not-for-profit Save Sag Harbor. The fear is because the bar is located on a different floor than the restaurant that it will become a destination bar space. Years ago, neighbors had to deal with Rocco’s, a nearby nightclub that many say ruined their quality of life.
In addition to the restaurant, the planning board is also reviewing a concession stand near the swimming pool.
On Tuesday night, Cape Advisors partner David Kronman reiterated a list of deed restrictions his firm has agreed to place on the property — restrictions that would run with the property even if it sold to another company.
Under the restrictions, Cape Advisors has agreed to have last call for any alcohol in the outdoor dining area on a proposed patio no later than 10 p.m., all outdoor background music will end at 9 p.m. nightly, last call at the restaurant’s bar will be no later than midnight and the hours of the restaurant bar, said Kronman, will be tied to the hours of the dining room. However, he added, room service will still be permitted to sell alcohol.
Cape Advisors has also agreed to prohibit bottle service of liquor and will not allow cover charges or entry fees, which are common calling cards of nightclubs.
The pool will also be restricted to hotel guests and their guests, said Kronman and will be closed at 9 p.m. as will the outdoor concession area.
“There is nothing more we can offer short of diluting our brand and the guest experience at the hotel,” said Kronman. “Cape Advisors believes we have a sensible project that is consistent with the village code. We are vested in Sag Harbor, here for the long run and have always tried to do the right thing.”
Planning board chairman Neil Slevin said he had heard the company was also considering valet parking on busy summer nights to protect the neighborhood from a parking problem, but Cape Advisors’ attorney Tiffany Scarlato said the 81 parking spaces in the inn’s parking lot fulfill the parking requirements in the village code.
In light of neighbor concerns, village attorney Denise Schoen said the board is limited in the way it assesses this project. First, she said, the board cannot assume Cape Advisors intends to break the law and convert the bar into a nightclub, for example. Second, a bar is only permitted under the village code in the hotel/motel district as an accessory to a restaurant, and only building inspector Tim Platt can make that determination.
Slevin said despite moving forward with the negative declaration, he would ask Platt to review the full application and ensure it does meet the village code.
He also asked Kronman for details on what the concession stand will offer.
Slevin said he believed protections in the code coupled with enforcement, deed restrictions and the scope of the project would ultimately be protective of neighbors. Many issues will also be hammered out in site plan review, said Slevin.
Before the board could act, neighbors began protesting, arguing their right to speak. Zelda Wirtschafter said she was concerned about parking, particularly now that parking is limited on Long Island Avenue, which could send cars onto neighborhood side streets.
“It seems there is more likely a potential use of that bar as a destination place for people in Sag Harbor to go there for a drink rather than go there just for the restaurant,” said Wirtschafter who added that she believed parking was a SEQRA issue.
“They meet the parking standards in the code,” said Schoen. “There is not much more you can do beyond that.”
At that point, Slevin tried to cut the conversation short, much to the ire of the crowd.
Neighbor Angela Scott said she believes the square footage of the downstairs bar area will allow for 265 people, 142 in the lobby lounge, 70 on the side covered porch and 53 on the front porch.
“It’s not just that it is on the ground floor,” said Scott. “The problem is the potential size of the bar area.”
Susan Mead, representing Save Sag Harbor, said her board was also concerned about calling this bar an accessory use, as they see it as a second primary use because of the bar’s location and potential size. For a second primary use a property owner would need zoning board of appeals (ZBA) approval.
“This is a very scary prospect,” said Mead. “It is an expansion of the code that could be done over and over and over again. It is a horrible precedent.”