By Kathryn G. Menu
Over the course of the last month, over 40 letters have been filed with the Sag Harbor Village Building Department about the Harbor Heights Service Station expansion plan, which will be before the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), next Tuesday night.
And not a single one supports the project.
For over two years now, John Leonard’s proposal to redevelop his property on Route 114 has been before the Sag Harbor Village planning board. However, with nine variances needed from the Sag Harbor ZBA — including one allowing Leonard to build a convenience store with almost twice the square footage allowed under the village code — it is really that board which holds this project’s fate in its hands.
Since it was proposed, the project has drawn its share of critics, including neighbors and the not-for-profit Save Sag Harbor. Since just before the December ZBA meeting — when the application was originally to be heard before it was tabled at the request of the applicant— opposition has snowballed.
Over 40 letters have been filed with the building department in the last month against the project and a petition of over 100 signatures (and still growing) collected by the Azurest Property Owners Association joins an original opposing petition of over 230 signatures already filed with the building department last year.
According to Anita Rainford, president of the Azurest Property Owners Association, a number of residents — including many throughout the Azurest, Eastville, Ninevah, Chatfield Hills and Sag Harbor Hills communities — fear the project will not only bring a larger commercial entity close to their communities thereby threatening their quality of life, but also that it could harm the historic character that makes Sag Harbor, and these neighborhoods so special.
On Tuesday, Rainford noted the village spent the better part of two years rewriting its village code, which included restrictions on the size of a convenience store as well as required setbacks, in an effort to preserve its charm. At the gateway to Sag Harbor, what Rainford called a large gas station development, certainly threatens that, she said.
“We didn’t move to East Hampton,” she said. “We didn’t want slick and savvy. We wanted nice, local, quaint. This is a location that directly borders the historic neighborhood of Eastville, and it does seem a little bit like a slap in the fact to the residents there who have kept their homes in line with historic architecture.”
If approved, Rainford said she also fears the precedent a project like this could set for future applications.
Route 114, she added, is already a very busy roadway, particularly in the summer months and Rainford said she has very real safety concerns associated with it getting busier if a new convenience store is opened along what is considered a critical entryway to the village.
“I don’t know any other residential community that would want this plopped in their backyard,” she said.
Rainford is not alone.
Many of the letters addressed to the ZBA about the Harbor Heights project came from residents in Ninevah, Sag Harbor Hills and surrounding communities.
“I feel that permitting these variances will be a huge mistake,” said Nancy French Achenbach, president of the Sag Harbor Historical Society. “The building code was rewritten with great thought and care to enable Sag Harbor to maintain the integrity deserved such a historic village. Allowing these variances to pass will make Harbor Heights a much bigger project and out of scale for one of the entrances to Sag Harbor. The site abuts the historic AME Zion Church.”
Michael Butler, a neighbor who has attended virtually every meeting regarding the Harbor Heights proposal, has long opposed the project.
“My position has been a consistent one, and that is that no variance be granted for this project, specifically in regard to any reduction in the required 30 foot landscape buffer as outlined in our current village code,” writes Butler. “Thirty feet should be a starting point to increase, not reduce, the landscape buffer.”
“Please protect the character of Sag Harbor and the integrity of zoning codes, by applying all building size, setback, landscape, and other requirements as written in code,” writes Stephen Roache, president of the Ninevah Beach Property Owners Association. “These requirements protect the community, and should not be minimized for private or corporate gain.”
“Please do not let this service station violate the zoning laws and make the entrance to Sag Harbor a brightly lit highway filling station,”writes artist Donald Sultan. “We have a rare and lovely village that is rather unique. Why keep finding ways to undermine what makes your and my little spot on earth great?”