Sag Harbor to Weigh Moratorium

Posted on 16 July 2014

By Stephen J. Kotz

The Sag Harbor Village Board will be asked to consider a moratorium on most developments requiring setback relief from wetlands, pending a revision of its wetlands law.

Denise Schoen, the assistant village attorney who represents the village’s Harbor Committee and other regulatory boards, requested that a moratorium be considered when the village board held a work session on Thursday, July 10, to consider a series of revisions to its zoning code while building inspector Tim Platt, who left his position this week, was still with the village.

Village attorney Fred W. Thiele Jr. said this week he would present a draft of a possible moratorium to the village board at its August 12 meeting.

“There have been issues cropping up more and more frequently,” said Mayor Brian Gilbride, “and we probably need to put on the brakes.”

“I think the changes are gong to be pretty comprehensive,” said Ms. Schoen. “Instead of reviewing the applications, we should be going through the wetlands code to see how we need to rewrite it.”

Richard Warren, the village’s planning consultant, said about a dozen applications  requiring relief from wetlands law setbacks are currently in the pipeline and would have to be put on hold during a moratorium.

The idea for the moratorium was first suggested by Harbor Committee chairman Bruce Tait in June. In a soliloquy before that board began its regular meeting last month, Mr. Tait expressed frustration that his committee was often being asked to weigh in on applications that had already received variances from the village Zoning Board of Appeals, rendering his committee’s input moot.

He also criticized the village for failing to enforce Harbor Committee decisions and said applicants have on occasion ignored the committee’s conditions for approvals.

At that time, Ms. Schoen said there were so many problems with the wetlands law as written that the village might be better off scraping the current law and writing a new one. A key goal, she said, would be to clearly define which applications should go before the Harbor Committee first and which ones should go before the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Besides confusion over where applications should go first, Ms. Schoen said there was a major problem with a provision allowing the Harbor Committee to reduce its own setback requirements “on lots that are so undersized that the applicant can’t possibly build without having that relief.”

The problem, she added, is that provision has “been interpreted by applicants and their attorneys that they automatically qualify for that relief. That’s not true. It’s a decision the Harbor Committee has to make.”

Mr. Warren recommended that the village simply remove the language describing undersized lots. “Right now the burden is on the Harbor Committee,” he said.

“Applications are coming in bigger and bigger,” he said. They want more and more swimming pools 20 feet from the bluff and on 10,000- square-foot lots 6,700-square-foot houses.”

The board also discussed changing the formula for determining how many parking spaces are required for restaurants from one space per three seats to one space per four spaces.

Although Mr. Platt said he thought the change would trigger requests from more restaurants for an increase in seats, others said the change would only bring restaurants into closer conformity with the state fire code—and besides, there are no parking spots anyway.

“You can put in 3,00 more seats and you aren’t going to get any more cars,” said Trustee Robby Stein. “It’s almost self-regulating.”

Trustee Ken O’Donnell, the owner LaSuperica restaurant, agreed. “I can put 200 more seats in, but if have a weekend like this when long Wharf is going to be covered with a tent, my backroom is going to be light.”

“I don’t know what to do with parking variances, I don’t know what to tell the board,” said Ms. Schoen. “I don’t know how we are supposed to enforce them. There are no parking spots so the analysis, legally, doesn’t work.”

Mayor Gilbride said he was concerned that if a restaurant were overcrowded, “and some bad event happens then people are going to be reaching out to find out who is liable.”

But Mr. Platt said if someone violates the fire code “the judge is going to take that much more seriously” than if they simply get slapped with a zoning code violation.

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