On Thursday, Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees unanimously approved a concept by local developer James Giorgio to encroach on village property in an attempt to raise, and expand, his 125 Main Street building. However, they also voiced concern over the need to protect the municipality from liability on the scores of Main Street properties that use village land as a part of their business.
During what trustees called a “field trip” to the Main Street locale, Giorgio and architect Chuck Thomas walked the board through their plans at the property, which currently houses The Winter Tree Gallery and The Gallery and is located next to the Latham House.
The project, in part, attempts to copy aspects of the Latham House’s design, seeking to lift the building to address what Giorgio and Thomas say is a crumbling foundation in dire need of repair and taking the opportunity to expand the structure to create more desirable retail locations. They hope to lift the building roughly three feet to address structural issues with the foundation, and while tackling that job, excavate three feet of what is technically village soil on one side of the front of the building to create two new retail locations on the ground floor. According to Giorgio and Thomas, one of the building’s biggest struggles is its lack of street level retail, which hinders patrons browsing Main Street from entering the businesses.
When presented the plans, which have already been shown at the historic preservation and architectural review board (ARB) and the village planning board, trustees initially expressed concern, specifically about the height of the new building once lifted off its foundation, and the liability the village faces by allowing private commercial development on village land.
On Thursday, trustees seemed amenable to what will likely be the height of the building, if it receives approval from the planning board. However, both Mayor Brian Gilbride and Trustee Tiffany Scarlato both expressed continued concern that the village needs to protect itself from liability through some kind of legal agreement to ensure Sag Harbor residents would not pay the price if someone tripped or fell on one of the several Main Street properties that encroach on village land, including this proposed development. On Thursday, while at 125 Main Street, village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. said there are a number of businesses in the same position.
Local business owner Michael Eicke noted that the encroachment issue has been a debate in the village since 1929 when the first formal survey was created of Sag Harbor’s downtown.
“I happen to be lucky because I only have one inch of village property,” said Eicke.
Giorgio agreed with Gilbride that from the perspective of both the village and the business owners, it would be best to have a clear understanding of who owns what and who is liable for what.
While the trustees unanimously agreed with Girogio’s concept for 125 Main Street, they did ask for final approval on whether a stone fence remains at the front of the property, behind which fill will be excavated to create the new retail spaces should the project gain village approval. Back at the Municipal Building, following the field trip, Gilbride stressed he would like to see the issue of property encroachment addressed on Main Street immediately.
“I don’t want to panic,” he said. “I don’t want people to think we are taking them over, but I am nervous. Now that we have opened this can of worms, it is out there.”
Trustee Tim Culver said the use of village properties by local businesses is permissive and asked if the board should consider codifying the longstanding, and sometimes unspoken, arrangement with local business owners.
Asking Thiele to look into the matter, Gilbride added, “Once we know this exists we have to get something done. Maybe I am overreacting a little bit, I just think, and I don’t want the alarm to go out, but we know this exists and maybe we have to deal with this on a case-by-case basis.”
In other village news, the board passed a resolution to remove an abandoned boat on the breakwater and agreed to look into what it can do in the future to more quickly address similar situations. While the boat has been on the breakwater since the summer, and belongs to a Sag Harbor resident, it has remained there for months while issues of ownership and municipal responsibility were hashed out.
The board agreed to look at changing its code to allow for quicker disposal of such vessels and Thiele advised them that they have the right to sue the owner for the cost of removal and cleanup. Since last month, the boat has been shredded against the rocks of the breakwater.