By Kathryn G. Menu
In front of a room filled with residents and neighbors who have largely opposed plans for expansion, a scaled back proposal for the redesign and construction of the Harbor Heights Service Station on Hampton Street in Sag Harbor was presented to the village’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA) Tuesday night.
According to Chris Tartaglia, of High Point Engineering, the proposal has slashed in half the number of variances the ZBA would have to grant the project in an effort to gain approval. Instead of the eight variances originally needed for the project, the new plan reduces the number of needed variances to four.
Station owner John Leonard now hopes to rebuild the existing wooden building in the same location and at its exact size rather than construct a new building. Tartaglia explained that in addition to the service station which currently exists on the property, the new 718 square foot building would contain 598 square feet that would specifically be used for a new convenience store, including storage and bathroom space. The additional 120 square feet, said Tartaglia, would be devoted to attendant space for both the store and the gas station, as well as for the sale of automotive goods.
Leonard’s attorney, Dennis Downes, said he believes because the retail store is under 600 square feet Leonard should not need a variance for its size as it meets code, but conservatively would still apply for one.
Four new pump islands, with eight fueling positions, are also proposed perpendicular to Hampton Street and set back from the roadway. They will be covered with a 24 foot canopy, which meets all code requirements. According to Tartaglia, in order to meet the setback to Hampton Street, one pump island will not be covered by the canopy and will be open to the elements.
“So anyone fueling at that location is going to get wet or covered in snow, but we comply with the code,” he said.
There are no variances, said Tartaglia, needed for the canopy, although village attorney Denise Schoen said the board will need to determine whether it views the expansion in the number of pumps — from five existing, counting a diesel pump Leonard plans to abandon in the station’s redesign, to eight pumps — as an expansion of the station’s pre-existing, non conforming use.
Leonard has also applied for a variance for a sign to replace the existing signage and for landscaping buffers on the property, which have been increased but not enough to meet the 30 foot setback laid out in the code.
“I have testified before this board that the upgrade to this facility is mandatory for it to survive,” said Tartaglia, adding if the station is not upgraded it would “close or fall apart at the seams.”
Needing to see a return on his investment, Tartaglia argued Leonard could not reduce the project any more.
“If we squeeze this area any more, we will squeeze it out of existence,” he said of the store’s square footage, adding he does not believe any municipality on Long Island has a square footage requirement for convenience stores that is so restrictive, calling the village’s restriction “arbitrary” as it was developed, he said, without consideration of industry standards.
He added the project would also increase safety, moving pumps off the right-of-way and creating curb cuts that direct traffic in and out of the property. Currently, and particularly during emergency situations like storms, cars line up on either side of Hampton Street waiting for their turn at the pump, but also causing a traffic hazard, he said.
Board chairman Anton Hagen said he was concerned with preserving the rural character of Sag Harbor, particularly at one of its gateways. He added another application could be made by the other gas station in town — the Getty on the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike — so the board needs to be careful about what precedent it sets.
At a third of the size of the Harbor Heights property, Tartaglia said there was no way the Getty station owners would be able to file an application for a convenience store.
“The size of their variance list would be three times longer than ours,” he said.
Hagen wondered why the number of pumps could not be reduced, noting Tartaglia has called the fuel side of the gas station business a financial “loss leader.”
“The purpose of the eight pumps is not to make more money,” said Downes. “It’s to present the product to the customer and get them off the road.”
Downes argued that Sag Harbor was once a village full of fueling stations, with at least half a dozen in operation, now reduced to just two.
“We are now down to two gas stations in the village for the convenience of the community,” said Downes.
Presenting the case Tartan Oil Corp. v. Board of Zoning Appeals of Town of Brookhaven, Downes said was a case very similar to the Harbor Heights case. The station in question was in the same place as the existing building, and pumps were expanded and with canopy. The variance was denied on the grounds that the project constituted the expansion of a non-conforming use.
“The court came back and basically stated when you seek to modernize a gasoline station that is not an expansion of the use,” said Downes.
The ZBA tabled the application to its October 15 meeting when attorney Jeffrey Bragman, representing the not-for-profit Save Sag Harbor, will present opposing arguments.