Tag Archive | "Anthony Tohill"

North Haven To Discuss Potential For “Sign Ban”

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By Claire Walla

Should they stay or should they go?

For North Haven Village Trustees, signage has been a big topic of interest. Not only has it recently prompted trustees to entertain the notion of amending village code to more clearly delineate what does and does not constitute a sign, but the topic has also caused trustees to wonder whether the village could eliminate signage altogether.

At the next trustees’ meeting on Tuesday, March 6, village board members will meet with the village’s attorney, Anthony Tohill, to discuss the various options before them. The meeting is open to the public and will begin at 5 p.m.

The idea of barring signs was first brought up by Trustee Jeff Sander during the village’s last meeting in February.

“I don’t think signs add anything to the environment and the beauty of the community,” he said in an interview this week.

Village Clerk Georgia Welch said the village hears numerous complaints from people in the community regarding what they apparently perceive to be excessive signage. In 26 years on the board, she added that she’s heard this complaint year after year.

“We keep trying to wrestle with [zoning] regulations and [sign] size, that takes a lot of time and thought,” Sander continued. “And enforcing whatever you pass is very difficult. I just think the community would be better served if we eliminated them.”

Sander clarified that any proposed ban would not include necessary signs, like street names and home addresses. It would be aimed more at curbing the excess of real estate and construction advertisements.

According to Welch, the village has long struggled with these structures.

“They just get too heavy,” she said. “Especially when you have a large project on a county road — that’s highly visible. [Residents] think it looks ugly.”

She then added, “When you already have a construction project going on, you don’t need signs peppered up and down the dirt hills.”

The notion of amending the village’s sign code has been discussed in this sense for years, but it was spurred in earnest at the beginning of this year when a North Haven resident complained of a homemade wooden sign that had been displayed at the corner of Route 114 and Maunakea.

“That precipitated the entire discussion,” Welch explained.

The structure, which has since been taken town, was a block of wood into which the address number, “144 Ferry Road,” was carved with big block letters. Though some trustees remarked at the size of the sign, at issue was its location.

“There was a question of whether or not it was on village property,” Welch added.

As for how this type of sign will be viewed by the village, Sander said at this point that will largely be contingent on what Tohill will bring to the table. At the trustees’ meeting last month, Tohill said he could not recall any other municipalities that had issued an all-out ban on signs, but he’s bringing his findings to the meeting on Tuesday.

“At this point, I think it’s going to be a legal question,” Sander continued. Based on some correspondences he said he had with some lawyers, Sander said there may be some issues of “freedom of speech” at hand.

“[Tohill] will have information for us about whether we can really do this, or not,” he added.

North Haven Considers Doing Away With Signs

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North Haven adjusted

By Claire Walla


Typically, when a home is for sale, a house is under construction, or a front yard displays second-hand items for sale at a reasonable price, signs will be posted to communicate that.

But at a North Haven Village Board meeting last Tuesday, January 7, village trustees considered something different: what if they weren’t?

“I think we should do away with all signs,” said Trustee Jeff Sander. He clarified this proposed change by saying such an ordinance would exclude street signs (which are not under the village’s jurisdiction) and street addresses. “It just makes it so much simpler if you do away with [signs].”

The board has been considering amending its sign code since December, when a village resident complained about a handmade, wooden sign, which reads “144 Ferry Road,” that was displayed at a residence near the North Haven traffic circle, at the corner of Ferry Road and Maunakea Street. The sign, hand-carved and larger than the average real-estate sign, became the object of discussion for its size and its close proximity to the road.

Village Attorney Anthony Tohill helped to draft a newer version of this section of town code, which was considered at the board’s last meeting in January. However, after board members discussed a desire to impose stricter sign enforcement, Tohill will now go back to the drawing board and consider whether North Haven will be able to do away with signs altogether.

“I’m not even sure a total prohibition on signs is permitted [by law],” Tohill continued. “I’ll have look into it.”

Though members of the board expressed interest in banning all signs — including real estate signs — they also recognized that the reality is more nuanced than that. Sander pointed out that North Haven does include one commercial business, which he said would need to have signage; and Trustee Jim Smythe brought up the fact that the village bounds are marked by the village’s own signs.

“One of the problems with sign regulations is you want to keep them more simple than complicated, and say less than more,” Tohill explained. “Trying to cover too many bases causes more problems.”

Tohill explained he is familiar with sign restrictions currently in effect in both Southampton Village and Westhampton Beach, and he will use those regulations as a reference for drafting an updated version of North Haven’s sign code that takes the trustees’ concerns into consideration.


In other news…


At it’s next meeting on Tuesday, March 6, the North Haven Village Board will consider a local law to allow village trustees to override the state-imposed tax levy limit.

“Enactment of an override is virtually standard,” Village Attorney Anthony Tohill said. He went on to explain that the downturn in the U.S. economy has had a particularly strong impact on local municipalities. So, especially for a district like North Haven, which depends largely on housing tax revenues, overriding the tax levy cap might be imperative for preventing the village from dipping into its reserve funds.

While Village Clerk Georgia Welch noted that the village hasn’t raised the tax rate in the past six years, Mayor Laura Nolan said the village has recently seen an even bigger decline in revenues from the building department.

Nolan said that according to the village’s building department, which issues permits for new construction projects in the village, there wasn’t even one new structure reported last month.

“That was the lightest building inspector’s report since I’ve been at the village,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to reach our anticipated income through the building department.”

While enacting this local law would allow the village to override the tax cap, Nolan added that this law would not mean that the village would necessarily do so. “We would just be able to do it, if necessary,” she said.

Sagaponack Holds Off on FEMA

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Just last week, it seemed the Sagaponack Village Board of Trustees was ready to adopt the new FEMA regulations, regarding the limit moderate wave action (LIMWA) line designation on the revised FEMA maps. But after reviewing draft legislation prepared by Village Attorney Anthony Tohill, mayor Don Louchheim announced at the trustee’s monthly meeting on Monday that he needed more information.

“I can’t make heads or tails of this,” reported Louchheim to his fellow board members. “I had the impression that there were going to be minor amendments to the law we passed in 2007. This is significantly different.”

In 2007, the village approved a flood prevention code, said village clerk Rhodi Winchell. She added that a code was modeled after a law presented to the village by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. By passing the flood prevention code, continued Winchell, the village became a part of the FEMA program and eligible for the flood insurance program for the municipality.

At the village work session held last Monday, Louchheim relayed a conversation he had with Tohill, in which Tohill reported that the new regulations wouldn’t necessarily alter the appearance of homes in the village. Louchheim added that he couldn’t ascertain if there was a difference in substance and content between the two legal documents or if it was a difference in technical language and structure.

“The structure is different [between the two documents.] The order of things has changed, and you can’t read one against the other because it is hard to compare the two,” continued Louchheim. “For the layman, it is hard to understand.”

Louchheim requested that Tohill write-up a memorandum detailing the differences between the 2007 village flood laws and the draft legislation for the new LIMWA regulations, before the village approves the draft for New York State Department of Environmental Conservation review.

As relayed to the board by Louchheim last week, Tohill said if the village chooses not to enact the new regulations they will most likely not be entitled to federal flood insurance for the entire municipality, which could adversely affect residents. Louchheim noted at the meeting last week that it is extremely difficult for prospective homeowners to obtain a mortgage without the availability of flood insurance.

Draft legislation pertaining to the new FEMA regulations must be sent to the DEC by June 25.

Although stalled on the issue of the new FEMA regulations, the board granted Ocean Zendo’s request to park on Bridge Lane, a street notorious for parking issues, in the summer months. The Buddhist congregation asked for parking passes which would let them station their cars in front of the Peter Matthiessen property, where the Zendo is located. Sarah Jaffe Turnball, a member of the group, reported to the board that it was often difficult for elderly members to navigate the unfinished and overgrown road leading up to the meeting house. Currently, parking is restricted during the day on this road, but the board will make an exception to accommodate the Zendo. They will issue roughly 10 special parking permits for the principal members of the group.

Village Sued By Denied Day Spa

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After the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) denied The Style Bar’s application for a parking variance on December 16, 2008, Peri and Ira Gurfein, owners of the business, decided to file an Article 78 lawsuit against the village over the ZBA’s decision. New York State Supreme Court proceedings on the case are scheduled to begin on Thursday, March 30 in Riverhead.

The Gurfeins’ variance request for six off-site parking spaces stems from an expansion the couple made to their business in 2000. At the time, a village moratorium was in place and the Gurfeins converted a portion of a second floor residential space into an accessory, commercial use of the ground floor beauty parlor business they had been operating.

However, the ZBA maintains this expansion was made without the required building permits and the Gurfeins’ certificate of occupancy doesn’t allow commercial use of the second floor space. In order to continue operating their business on the second floor, the Gurfeins require six additional parking spaces. Since on-site space at the Bay Street location is at a premium, the Gurfeins needed a variance for off-site parking.

The ZBA, however, voted against the Gurfeins’ request. The ZBA said there is already a parking shortage in the village business district and added that giving the Gurfeins a variance for six-off site spaces would worsen the situation and create an undesirable change to the neighborhood. The board added that by expanding the business without providing the necessary parking, the Gufeins significantly affected the village parking problems, since the ZBA claims the enlargement increased the business floor area by more than 100 percent. Finally, the board concluded the Gurfeins created the hardship themselves because they consciously bypassed the village approval process for their commercial expansion.

However, the Gurfeins’ lawyer, Robert Marcincuk, stated in lawsuit documents, the ZBA’s decision was “retaliatory and designed to punish the Petitioners for their business expansion/renovations without first obtaining a building permit or other necessary Village approvals.”

During an interview, Marcinuk said “We are saying [perhaps] we created the situation by expanding, but the self-created hardship alone isn’t determinative as to whether or not the zoning board of appeals should have denied granting the variance.”

Marcinuk claims the board was presented with several letters from owners of neighboring businesses, who said the Style Bar didn’t have an adverse impact on the neighborhood. He added that the expanded business has been in operation since 2000. Marcinuk said there isn’t a feasible alternative for the Gurfeins since it is impossible to create on-site parking for the business.

Marcinuk went on to state that a similar parking variance was granted to Bay Partners, LLC, for the Tutto Il Giorno Restaurant on Bay Street in February 2008. The restaurant sought to create outdoor seating during the summer, which required additional parking. The ZBA, however, found outdoor seating had been operated from the site since 1975, and thus wouldn’t be a substantial change to the neighborhood. Bay Partners was subsequently granted the variance.

In December, members of the ZBA said the Tutto Il Giorno approval wasn’t equivalent to the Style Bar application due to the different circumstances of both businesses.

Of the lawsuit, chairman of the ZBA Michael Bromberg said, “I think our board is right and [the Gurfeins] are wrong.”

 

Above: A view of the Style Bar. 

Headley Studio Plans Approved, with Changes

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During Tuesday’s Sag Harbor Planning Board meeting, Michael Minkoff, the prospective buyer of the Headley Studio property on Main Street, was granted site plan approval for his project, though this approval came with a few contingencies. In his most recent site plan, Minkoff created a private parking space on the property. This space, however, wasn’t within a ten-foot clearance to the nearest building on the property, which is required by village law. Miles Anderson, Minkoff’s lawyer, presented an alternative to the board. He said Minkoff was willing to move the private parking space into the driveway. “[Minkoff] wants to be able to promise the tenant a private off-street parking space,” said Anderson, speaking of the art gallery interested in leasing the ground floor retail space.
At the close of the meeting, the board signed off on the site plan approval, under the condition the garage parking is reflected in an amended site plan, the pool equipment storage be moved from the garage to the basement and the cellar door be moved further away from the driveway. Sag Harbor Village Attorney Anthony Tohill urged Minkoff to go before the zoning board of appeals for a variance for an on-site parking space, not located in the garage. This space would be five feet away from the building, which is required under state law. The original parking space on the property was closer to the building than five feet.
Site plan approval was still granted, but Minkoff must submit amended plans noting the new on-site parking spot. Minkoff will still have to relocate the cellar entrance. Currently, the entrance is near the driveway, and could create a hazard if someone accidentally drove into it.
Minkoff will next have to visit the Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board for final action on the amended site plans. If the ARB approves these plans, they will grant a certificate of appropriateness for the renovation.

New Village Zoning Code Nears Final Draft

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After two-and-a-half years of zoning planning, code drafting, public forums and numerous revisions, the proposed village zoning code might be enacted as early as April. A public hearing on the new code held on Friday, February 13, yielded less public comment than in previous sessions. The discussion during the hearing was mainly devoted to the revisions which have been made to the code. An amended version of the code will be published in the near future.

The key revisions made to the code include second floor uses, the purview of the Historical Preservation and Architectural Review Board, the timeline for filing a Certificate of Occupancy and day care center and bed and breakfast notification. With the revisions, second floor spaces in the village business district are allowed to be used for retail, office or residential purposes. A confusing piece of language concerning the ARB’s jurisdiction was rewritten, and now clearly states that the ARB does not have jurisdiction over the uses of a retail space. Under the proposed zoning code, a new owner has thirty days to attain a Certificate of Occupancy. In addition, those interested in creating a bed and breakfast or day care center will need to notify their neighbors within a 500-foot radius, instead of only 200 feet.

 

Sag Harbor Planning Consultant Richard Warren presented two flow charts detailing the process for expansion and change of uses for retail spaces in the village business district. One flow chart showed the process for spaces 3,000 square feet and under, while the other chart detailed the process for spaces above 3,000 square feet. Warren added that special exception uses, which have received a measure of scrutiny from the public, are still permitted uses but simply have to meet a more stringent set of criteria, since they often involve more intensive uses. Warren gave the example of a shoe store changing into a restaurant, which is a special exeception use and requires more parking and sewage usage.

Members of the community still raised concerns over the ARB’s ability to govern interior designs which are visible from the street.

“This seems to restrain certain freedoms, [especially] the freedom of expression,” said Susan Sprott.

However, this provision predates the new zoning code and was enacted in 1994, said Sag Harbor Village Attorney Anthony Tohill. Members of the board added that the purview of the ARB doesn’t extend to merchandise in the retail space.

Overall, members of the board seemed satisfied with the revisions made to the code.

“I do think it went fairly well,” said Trustee Tiffany Scarlato of the hearing on Friday. “I think we are pretty much at the end of the line. I am pretty happy with the end result. Everyone didn’t get exactly what they wanted, but there was certainly a compromise.”

Throughout the discussions over the new zoning code, the issue of parking has come up again and again. According to mayor Greg Ferraris, the new zoning code was intended to handle zoning issues within the village, and not to ameliorate some of the village’s infrastructure problems, including parking.

Parking has been a highly debated issue within the village, well before the new village zoning code was proposed. During the summer season, village parking is often scarce and can lead to traffic congestion. At a recent public hearing on the new zoning code held on January 29, Alan Fruitstone, the owner of Harbor Pets, said many of his customers refer to Sag Harbor as a ‘drive through village’ in the summer months, due to parking and traffic problems. He implored the village to incorporate parking solutions into the new code.

The proposed village zoning code, however, does amend the village’s solution to traffic problems, by eliminating the parking trust fund. Culver commended the village for this move.

“I think eliminating the parking trust fund is a step in the right direction,” said Culver, during a later interview. “It created an unnecessary tension between business owners and the village.”

Culver also contended that parking is an issue which should be addressed in the coming years. He believes it is an opportune time for the village to create parking solutions.

“Now we have a group of folks who are focused on planning issues. Maybe we could now think of the future of the village in a visionary way and generate a discussion [on parking]” added Culver.

During the hearing on Friday, Ted Conklin, proprietor of the American Hotel, articulated these sentiments. Conklin hopes the village will also look into village infrastructure issues, including parking and sewage. “We need to commit ourselves to a visionary plan for the whole of Sag Harbor … Something that generations from now will be proud of,” said Conklin.

The next public hearing on the proposed zoning code will be held on March 19. If no revisions need to be made to the code after this hearing, the board will have to wait at least ten days to enact the new zoning code.

 

Above: Ted Conklin, owner of the American Hotel in Sag Harbor, calls for a “visionary plan” for the village. 

 

See video excerpts from the hearing at www.sagharboronline.com

 

Questions on New Code Remain

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By Marissa Maier

It was 15 minutes before the public hearing on the proposed new village zoning code, but Sag Harbor’s municipal meeting room was already filled to capacity. Members of Save Sag Harbor and the Sag Harbor Business Association waved to one another as they took their seats. Others talked in huddled groups. When the mayor and village trustees took their seats, the crowd hushed.

It was nearly two years ago that trustee Tiffany Scarlato and mayor Greg Ferraris began exploring a revision of the village code, which was last fully updated in the 1980s.

The code was full of inconsistencies and outdated provisions, said Ferraris. Over the years the code had been amended in a patchwork fashion, added Scarlato. Unprecedented development projects like the proposed condo complex at the Bulova factory and CVS’ purported interest in opening a store in the village has further brought the code issue to the forefront in the community.

Scarlato and Ferraris hired village attorney Anthony Tohill and planning consultant Richard Warren to research planning materials, zoning law and concepts. The final product of their work was compiled in “Planning Strategies for the Incorporated Village of Sag Harbor” a document which became a comprehensive plan for the new village zoning code.

The revised code was officially proposed in the spring of 2008. Since then the code has been revised based on public comments gathered at previous public forums.
At the end of his opening statement on Thursday, January 29, Ferraris said he hoped to facilitate a dialogue between the board and the public. Ted Conklin, a member of the Sag Harbor Business Association and owner of The American Hotel, was the first community member to speak.

“The vision of the future Sag Harbor is not terribly different from one camp to the other … But [the association] believes this code will put small businesses in peril,” said Conklin referencing a document prepared for the group by EEK architects, who studied the new code.

In the report, Stanley Eckstut of EEK cited the 3,000 maximum square footage allowance for ground floor business, codifying permitted retail space uses and hindering office uses on second floors in the village business district as measures that would hurt village economics.

“Creating rules that make it difficult to lease the ground floors for active paying tenants will jeopardize the ability of the buildings to remain financially viable,” wrote Eckstut who also referenced a provision in the code which prohibited creating new offices on the second floor in the VB or Village Business District.

“Restricting the upper floors from accommodating the very uses that are considered objectionable on the ground floor is counterproductive,” wrote Eckstut.

But the board countered Eckstut’s concern by noting that the code will soon be revised and building owners will be permitted to create office or residential space on the second floor of their building, as long as they visit the building department for a new Certificate of Occupancy with the stated use.

Further, board members said that if a retail space is under 3,000 square feet and an owner wants to change from one permitted use to another, the building department will give the owner a waiver to change the use. The owner would not have to visit the planning board, the board noted, because the change doesn’t require a site plan review.

Phil Bucking, whose sister, Lisa Field, runs the Sag Harbor Variety Store, said it would be harder for her to sell the business in the future because the store is over 3,000 square feet.

Ferraris said that if the Variety Store was turned into another permitted use, they would visit the planning board and request a waiver for the site plan review. The waiver would most likely be granted, as long as the change of use didn’t include an expansion, added capacity or required additional parking or sewage usage. These conditions would require a new site plan review of the space.

“Under the proposed code, the process is formalized and streamlined,” said Ferraris following the hearing. “Before, a lot was left up to the building inspector, but now there is a process.”

Conklin asked for the planning board to have a time schedule for applications and site plan reviews, and also a fee cap.

After the meeting, Scarlato said this wouldn’t be feasible because the village doesn’t have in-house planning staff who work on a regular basis. Instead, the village out-sources planning and engineering work.

David Lee, who manages a number of Main Street buildings, spoke out against a provision in the code which he said gave the ARB (Architectural Review Board) the power to review the interiors of retail spaces.

Tohill, however, later read from the code and stated the ARB has no such power.
In an advertisement that appears in this week’s issue of the Express, the Sag Harbor Business Association asks the village to “delay implementing the office district until we know the impact.”

Association member Jeff Sander asked the board to conduct a comprehensive review of the business owner’s specific concerns. A hefty list of business and property owners who are either against the code, or still on the fence, is included in the advertisement.
Save Sag Harbor’s lawyer Jeff Bragman agreed with the business association on the need to permit office and residential uses on the second floor, and congratulated the board on this revision.

“I thought the hearing was very impressive,” said Bragman later. “I think the board has done a good job at incorporating public comment into the code.”

Save Sag Harbor member Robert Stein, however, wished the code was more restrictive in regards to neighborhood density for daycare facilities and bed-and-breakfasts. Recognizing this concern after the hearing, Ferraris said the village was exploring revising this provision of the code. In the current draft of the code, both establishments need to alert neighbors in a 200 foot radius that they will set-up shop. Ferraris, however, proposes changing this to a 500 foot radius.

Despite the many divergent views that have surfaced throughout the code process, several community members spoke out to express a similar vision for Sag Harbor — one in which the village remains a pedestrian friendly, historical and commercially diverse place.

“I think everyone wants the code to be satisfactory for all the parties involved,” said Save Sag Harbor member April Gornick.

The next public hearing on the code will be held Friday, February 13 at 5 p.m. at the municipal building on Main Street.