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Zoning Code Talk Focuses on Waterfront

Posted on 23 April 2009

Despite roughly 40 people in attendance at what was anticipated to be the last public hearing on Sag Harbor’s new zoning code, Thursday’s meeting proved uneventful, with a third round of debates on the effect the code will have on current waterfront businesses at the forefront of the discussion.

James McCrosson, commodore of the Sag Harbor Yacht Club, began the discussion by reading a statement from the yacht club’s board of directors. The statement reiterated the club’s position that changing zoning on the waterfront for marinas, yacht clubs and boat yards from permitted uses to special exception uses goes against the village’s own Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP).

“In fact, the Harbor Committee could not find it consistent [with the LWRP] after hearing all the facts,” said McCrosson.

At an April 13 Harbor Committee meeting, the advisory panel was unable to reach consensus on whether to support the code, although committee members Jeff Peters and Brian Halweil were not in attendance. Chairman Bruce Tait voiced support for the zoning code, but was unable to convince Dr. Tom Halton or Nancy Haynes, who manages a marina. By law, the committee was unable to vote on consistency with the LWRP until the public hearing process on the code has ended.

McCrosson also asked for an economic impact study on not just the ramifications of the code on the waterfront, but also on the business district.

At the request of trustee Tiffany Scarlato, village attorney Anthony Tohill explained to McCrosson that special exception use is by law a permitted use, and that while special exception uses do need to meet specific criteria laid out in the new code, if an applicant meets those standards a village board does not have the power to deny an approval.

“Once those conditions are satisfied, the board cannot deny the application,” he explained, adding the reason marinas, boat yards and yacht clubs were defined as special exception in the new code is because Sag Harbor’s waterfront is a “sensitive area.”

“It’s not as bad as you think,” said Tohill.

On top of that, all current businesses would be considered pre-existing, non-conforming should the code be adopted and therefore would be able to operate as they have and even change hands without repercussions. Only if the business owners wished to change the use on their properties or seek additional uses, like the creation of a restaurant, would they fall under the proposed zoning code.

“You are not going to be held to the standards of special exception,” said Scarlato, adding an expansion would require site plan approval under the new code, but the existing code already mandates the same thing.

Sag Harbor Yacht Yard owner Lou Grignon wondered if the code offers no disadvantage to the current marina, yacht club and boat yard owners, what is the benefit for the village changing the zoning in the new code.

While the village wants to protect what exists on the waterfront, said village planner Rich Warren, there are parcels available for reuse that need to be protected.

“Your waterfront is special property in the village and you want to take special care with it,” he said, adding the change does not effect current businesses, but will enable the village to take “a closer look” at new construction and uses on Sag Harbor’s waterfront.

Grignon also asked for accessory apartments to be made legal for businesses on the waterfront, as to provide employee housing and even security.

While the village does have a plan to legalize some accessory apartments in the village code, it does so for apartments that are attached to primary residences. A majority of the current accessory structures in the village that could provide an affordable housing solution for many homeowners, noted Stacy Pennebaker are detached and she urged the board to consider opening up its allowances for accessory apartments in Sag Harbor.

“Legalize them,” she said. “Bring them up to code.”

Resident Susan Sprott agreed with Pennebaker, adding area businesses, including the Bay Street Theatre, could take advantage of affordable housing in Sag Harbor. Sprott added there are many seniors who could benefit from renting out the space.

“We don’t have any more land, but we do have houses and we do have cottages behind houses,” said Sprott.

The board will meet again to discuss the zoning code and receive a draft environmental impact statement on the legislation on May 15 at 5 p.m. 

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