Village Braces for Second Suit over Waterfront Condos

Posted on 11 September 2009

The village of Sag Harbor has been served with a notice of claim by East End Ventures, the firm that has sought to construct 18 condominiums on Sag Harbor’s waterfront. The claim lays the groundwork for a possible multi-million lawsuit against the village over a new village code that drastically changes what development is legal on the parcel known to village residents as Ferry Road.

The same firm has already filed suit against the village over the enactment of the village code, which they allege was done without proper environmental review.

During a Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, September 8, Mayor Brian Gilbride confirmed the village had received the notice of claim. According to village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. such an action is required before a formal lawsuit seeking monetary damages can be filed against a municipality.

The notice of claim charges that the village “acted in bad faith in delaying [East End Ventures’] applications while the zoning code was changed.” In addition to seeking monetary relief, the notice of claim also asks East End Ventures’ proposal for 18 waterfront condos and 18 accessory boat slips be reviewed under the old village code.

In addition to prohibiting the construction of three-story buildings, which was proposed by the developers, the new code also reduces the number of units allowed on the parcel by more than half. In July, building inspector Tim Platt informed the Sag Harbor Planning Board, which has been reviewing a number of different proposals for the property over the last two years, that the current project did not comply with the new village code, effectively ending the review.

In related news, Mayor Gilbride said a title search was currently underway regarding a parcel located between the Ferry Road property and village owned beachfront. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced last month it intended to sell the property to East End Ventures, despite village requests since 1996 that the authority sell the land to the village with an ultimate goal of creating a public park next to the Lance Corporal Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Budget Woes

Sag Harbor Trustees are closely watching the current village budget, facing unexpected increases in retirement benefit costs as well as a decrease in transient dock rentals.

On Tuesday, Gilbride said the cost of the village’s retirement system for civil service employees and police officers could increase by $100,000 in February. According to Gilbride, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli informed municipalities that the state has seen a 27 percent decrease in investment revenues for the system.

“What happens is when the plan earns more in interest our contribution is less,” explained Gilbride on Wednesday. “In real hard times, when we can least afford it, our contribution goes up.”

Gilbride said increases may not be limited to this year alone. The village is currently exploring pending state legislation that would allow the village to pay for the increase over a 10 year period, said Gilbride, but may choose instead to pay upfront depending on the interest rate the state offers municipalities under the amortization plan.

In other budget news, trustee Tim Culver announced the village’s transient dock revenues are down $8000 from projected revenues in the current village budget, although Labor Day revenues have yet to be calculated. Last budget cycle trustees planned for a decrease, budgeting $25,000 less in revenue from the harbors and docks.

“It may turn out we are right on budget,” said Culver.

However, trustees said use of the village docks was noticeably down this season.

“This is the first year we have actually had slips available and sometimes there are even vacant slips down there and that never, never has happened,” said Gilbride.

Justice Court Talks Renewed

On Tuesday, the board voted to support a grant application for the Town of Southampton for the creation of video arraignments in its justice court, although Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano said he would like to see talks of a Sag Harbor Village Justice Court renewed.

With discussions of Southampton Town moving its justice court out of its village and into Hampton Bays, talk of a village court has been on the table since 2004. After lawsuits, the addition of a fourth judge in Southampton Town, talk of video arraignments and the town’s continued use of its Southampton court, trustees pulled back from the concept in 2007.

“The video arraignment is nice, but it will not resolve the issues we have,” said Fabiano on Tuesday, citing transportation costs, loss of potential revenues and a lack of control as reasons to re-open discussions about a village justice court.

“Southampton Village went to its own court and it has been more profitable and they have had more control over village issues,” said Fabiano.

Madison Street resident Patricia Field approached the board on Tuesday night, objecting to Stacey Pennebaker’s requests to expand an accessory housing law to include detached units. Under the current code, accessory apartments are allowed as attached units. Pennebaker has approached the board on a number of occasions asking them to broaden the law in favor of creating more affordable housing opportunities.

Field charged that Pennebaker, who is her neighbor, has made these requests for personal reasons, alleging a barn on Pennebaker’s property has been converted into an illegal apartment.

On Wednesday, Pennebaker said this is “a private dispute between two neighbors that regrettably has become public.” She said she would cooperate with village officials as they look into the matter.

In other village news, the board granted village planner Richard Warren of Inter-Science Research Associates permission to increase water quality testing at Havens Beach after rain events in order to test more locations at the bathing beach. The village is hoping current testing will identify a source of contamination in a stormwater runoff ditch at the bathing beach so they may remediate the area.

“It certainly seems like the right thing to do,” said Gilbride

“Without a doubt,” said Trustee Tiffany Scarlato.




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