By Kathryn G. Menu
This past winter, Sag Harbor was nominated by Coastal Living Magazine as one of the country’s “happiest” seaside communities. However, this past week members of the village board wondered how happy residents would be if it allowed Coastal Living Magazine to partner with a local developer to create a “showhouse” projected to bring as many as 7,000 people into Sag Harbor over the course of five months.
During Tuesday night’s Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting, the board discussed a proposal by DeMarco Design and Development of Sag Harbor, which has partnered with Coastal Living Magazine on a “showhouse,” which will be located in a DeMarco Design and Development building project at 93 Glover Street in Sag Harbor. According to a July 19 letter to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride from Nicholas DeMarco and Michael Arena, the home will be featured in Coastal Living Magazine, along with product sponsors.
The showhouse would also be opened for a special open house celebration on a Thursday night in late June from 6 to 9 p.m. to thank sponsors of the project, with between 100 and 200 people expected to attend.
“We plan to park cars on the adjacent empty lot,” states Arena and DeMarco’s letter, referring to 95 Glover Street, a vacant lot also owned by the company, “to avoid street parking and congestion.”
The second event would be regular house tours through the home, which would be held during daytime hours, Wednesday through Sunday from late June to mid August, and on weekends along through October. Parking would again be in the adjacent lot, and a portion of proceeds would be given to a local charity, according to Arena and DeMarco’s letter.
“In the past Coastal Living’s showcases have attracted about 7,000 people during the duration of the tours over five months, the majority being on weekends,” states Arena and DeMarco in the letter.
In letters to the village board, both Fire Marshall Keith Payne and Building Inspector Tim Platt expressed reservations about the concept.
“Before a special permit is issued, I think the idea of turning a residential piece of property into a commercial piece for three months should be addressed,” said Payne in a July 29 letter to the board. “If one piece is allowed to be changed, I think that might open the door for others and Sag Harbor doesn’t need to expand commercial activities into residential areas.”
Platt notes the open house celebration that is proposed is allowed, subject to a special events permit, but said he would need more information about the open house tours.
“I do not find that house tours are contrary to village code,” states Platt in a July 25 memo to village clerk Beth Kamper. “However the statement that a ‘portion of the proceeds will go directly to a local charity’ warrants further investigation.”
“This statement would seem to indicate that there is revenue generated from the house tour,” continues Platt. “Any endeavor largely for private profit would solicit the question as to whether or not this is a commercial venture on a residential lot. The terms of a special event permit prohibit events that are largely for private profit.”
“I do not believe they are prohibited from charging a fee in association with the event, but I do not believe the proceeds could be largely for private profit,” states Platt. “The village attorney should be consulted on the matter.”
Board member Ed Deyermond noted the village board just upzoned the property at the former Sag Harbor United Methodist Church and viewed this proposal as downzoning a property from residential to commercial.
“That is not going to happen,” he said. “Seven thousand people? I don’t think so.”
“There are zoning implications for what has been described,” agreed village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. before the board voted unanimously to table the discussion.
Coincidently, Glover Street resident Brian Halweil was also at Tuesday night’s meeting and spoke to the village board before they entertained the DeMarco letter. In a letter delivered to the board, Halweil expressed concerns about the development of these Glover Street parcels and asked the board intercede where it is possible.
“We are writing in reference to the pending building permit(s) for the one-to-two buildings planned for the west side of Glover Street, north of Long Island Ave., between Redwood Ave. and Cilli Vitali Ave.,” states Halweil and three other residents in a letter to the board. “And to ask that you and the village trustees delay these building permits to allow additional consideration of the implications for the neighborhood and village.”
The residents note the parcels are in a neighborhood with a history of flooding and road closures and additional building could exacerbate that situation.
Recently, a group of residents from Garden, Howard and Spring streets have called on the village to create a comprehensive flood management and drainage plan for low lying areas of Sag Harbor. They have also called for a building moratorium in Redwood, Glover Street and other flood-prone areas.
“Restored and planted, the parcel could serve as functional wetlands to mitigate village stormwater and improve ecological services,” states Halweil’s letter.? “While a group of neighbors and the Peconic Land Trust have tried unsuccessfully to purchase the development rights from the owner and preserve the open space for village use, we would like additional time to put this ask to the owner again.”
If building is allowed to occur, the neighbors asked that the full impact of development on all three parcels owned by Arena and DeMarco be assessed.
At the root of Halweil’s concern is a hope shared by many residents as of late — that comprehensive drainage and flood mitigation is undertaken by the village, that building projects are assessed for what the impact on flooding and drainage could be and that restoring wetlands remain a priority where applicable.
Spring Street resident Rosemary Clemens wondered if the village had followed through in applying for state grant funding to cover the cost of developing such a plan.
According to mayor Brian Gilbride, a letter of intent has been filed on behalf of the village with the state. The village has also begun its 2013 drainage mapping project, according to a letter filed with the board by engineers Dvirka and Bartilucci. A report, said Gilbride, after the existing drainage infrastructure, is expected this fall.
“Even in a rainfall like today, Garden Street can be a rushing river,” said Garden Street resident Alden Cohen. She called for long term solutions to these issues, noting for her it was years of gardening lost; for others it was whole septic, heating and air systems.
“I am really excited to see that the village seems to be looking at emergency mitigation as well as long term planning to deal with this,” said Halweil on Wednesday. “The combination of temporary pumps, which is used in New York City, with longer term planning — functional wetlands, new drainage infrastructure, thinking about the way we build on the waterfront — these are good things to hear discussed at a village board meeting.”