Tag Archive | "Bulova"

The Effort of Process

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By Mayor Greg Ferraris

I am sure that many of you have now read last week’s Point of View column penned by Richard Gambino. While I have refrained from responding to various letters, articles and editorial opinions over my six years of public service, I felt inspired to respond and set the record straight on numerous inaccuracies and potentially libelous comments contained in his column.

It is quite obvious that this column was an attempt to justify a stance against the Village’s review process through the medium of unaccountable journalism rather than the tried and true method of stating fact and reality. Fortunately, the Village has individuals like Planning Board Chairman Neil Slevin and other committed review board members who are willing to sift through this biased rhetoric of lobbying organizations to make determinations which are for the betterment of the entire Village without regard to self-interest.

Let me begin by stating that the proposal brought to the Village by Sag Development Partners for the Bulova building was undoubtedly the largest development project that the Village has seen in our modern era. This project as proposed, which was embraced by nearly all Village residents, would not only have resurrected one of the most historically significant structures within the Village, but provided a source of economic activity while completing the ongoing remediation of a documented Superfund site.

That being said, although I would love to take credit for all of the hard work and effort put forth during this arduous process, the Village Board of Trustees and I had no role in review of the application, except to the extent that the Village Board is the legislative branch that establishes the code that is implemented by the review boards. All of the appointed individuals on these boards are well-versed in their duties and worked tirelessly on the Bulova application, enduring more than 50 long, tedious public meetings that addressed every environmental issue that arose in the evaluation of the application, each of which were addressed in public, in detail and by submissions of the applicant and responses from the Village’s consultants. Had Mr. Gambino attended any of the meetings held in connection with this project, he would know the depth at which each issue was addressed and would have concluded that the review boards and the Village’s staff did a tremendous job of dealing with such a large-scale proposal and in fact did comply with the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

Mr. Gambino has repeatedly shown his ignorance to the facts and circumstances of this application and process. He alleges that the Village approved a plan to truck 30,000 cubic yards of “potentially toxic soil” from the site. The Village Planning Board did no such thing. Actually, prior to the submission of this application by Sag Development Partners, the Bulova property was the subject of a “Record of Decision” issued by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) in 1996, which required the owner to remove the soil from the site. Pursuant to New York State law, a municipality is pre-empted from regulating any of the elements covered by the order and further, the order itself and its implementation is exempt from environmental review. In this particular case, the Village Planning Board asked the applicant to discuss the implementation of the NYSDEC mandate, who agreed, although discussion was not required. In addition, Mr. Gambino stated that the Village would incur liability as a result of any soil spill. In reality, liability for removing and transporting the soil lies with the applicant under the supervision of the NYSDEC as required by the order.

Mr. Gambino also incorrectly categorizes the recommendations of the Suffolk County Planning Commission (SCPC) with respect to the affordable housing component of the Bulova site as a “legal requirement.” The Planning Commission responded to two agencies involved in the proposal, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board, with a recommendation that the applicant provide affordable housing. The comments of the SCPC are recommendations, not legal requirements. According to New York State General Municipal Law, a referral to the local planning commission was required for this application. The law also states that the comments provided by the local planning commission are recommendations that may be overridden by the agency responsible for the project by a majority plus one vote. In this case, the Boards determined, as they had absolutely every right to do, that the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust Fund was an acceptable alternative which addressed the community’s concerns about the provision of affordable housing and legally overrode the SCPC recommendations. As a matter of fact, the Village subsequently received a letter from the SCPC acknowledging that this was an acceptable alternative.

The column also alleges that the Village “bypassed” New York State environmental regulation. The Village prides itself on compliance with each and every aspect of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) regulations. If we had been called upon to defend the merits of a suit alleging any improper environmental review, I have complete confidence that a court would rule in favor of the Village’s actions and review. The purpose of SEQRA is to incorporate environmental consideration into the planning, review and decision-making process of a local agency at the earliest possible time. To insinuate that the Village failed to do this is illogical. Before any determination was made as to the environmental significance of the project, the village review boards held more than 50 public meetings on numerous environmental issues, accepting public comment on each and every issue and requiring the production of thousands of pages of reports, information and expert testimony that was carefully evaluated by both the Planning Board and the Villages’ consultants. This is exactly what SEQRA requires.

The lawsuit against the Village that alleged defects in our procedure was dismissed on a technicality which was the result of plaintiff’s counsels’ repeated failure to comply with details for filing a suit of this type. Although the Village would have been successful on the merits of a challenge to its process, it became clear that due to the obvious defects in the Plaintiff’s petition, it was more efficient and fiscally responsible for the Village to first defend the suit on that basis. 

Mr. Gambino also questions the authorship of the final environmental review document that was completed in connection with the proposed project, insinuating that I had prepared an “in-house report” as part of the environmental review. In fact, an expanded environmental assessment form and summary report that evaluated the environmental impacts as well as provided a summary of all the information gathered was prepared and submitted by the applicant’s environmental planners, Frudenthal & Elkowitz. That final document is the effective equivalent of a final environmental impact statement and included all of the legally required elements and was accepted by the Planning Board as having adequately addressed all environmental concerns of the project. This process was innovative and not only addressed each environmental issue in public, but was paramount to the Board’s and the public’s understanding of the process and the issues. 

In connection with the process followed by the Planning Board, the author maliciously misinterpreted the comments by Planning Board Chair, Neil Slevin. According to the article written by Kathryn Menu that appeared in the April 2, 2009 edition of the Express, Mr. Slevin stated that, in connection with the environmental review process that was followed for the Bulova application, “I could not imagine for the life of me a process that is better for figuring out the challenges or impacts a development might present or where the community would have a greater opportunity to share their expertise and concern… The very thing we have been criticized for, I believe, is the best thing we have done. The public came to us…and we made the developer answer.” These statements demonstrate the very core of environmental review principles: public participation and calling upon the applicant to answer the questions.

As a matter of clarification, my comments about the Group for the East End were representative of their actions towards the Village with respect to the affordable housing concerns on the Bulova application. Despite the many environmental issues that were addressed throughout this process, the Group curiously focused their attention on a single social issue, the provision of affordable housing on-site, which seemed to me to be out of the scope of their mission as an environmental advocacy group. I would hope that in the future the Group would partner with the Village to deal with development pressures by offering their expertise rather than criticizing a Village Board that has taken substantial steps toward preserving the character and environment of Sag Harbor.

In closing, I find Mr. Gambino’s skills as a creative fiction writer are most impressive and provided last week’s Express audience with a very entertaining article at my expense, but he should have at the very least researched the basic facts. Is that not a basic premise of journalism?

Brown To Replace Toy On Sag Harbor Planning Board

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The Sag Harbor Village Planning Board has had a fair amount of heavy lifting to contend with over the course of the last two years. In that time, it has engaged in a lengthy review of the now approved condominium projects at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory and at 21 West Water Street, as well as the conversion of the controversial Havens Bar and Lounge on Bridge Street into retail and residential space, and the review of the Loeffler office building across from the Breakwater Yacht Club on Bay Street.

And as the board is about to embark on yet another prolonged review – this time of the proposed 18-unit luxury condominiums at 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road – it has said good-bye to its former chairman, Jerome Toy. Barring a dramatic turn of events, the board will accept new member Nathan Brown at its October 16 work session.

On Tuesday, October 14, the Sag Harbor Board of Trustees is expected to appoint Brown to the planning board in a unanimous resolution, according to Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris. Brown will take Toy’s seat on the board. In August, board member Neil Slevin replaced Toy as chairman of the planning board and will continue to lead the board through its review of the Ferry Road application. (See interview on page 9).

According to Ferraris, after interviewing Brown, his appointment was inevitable.

“It really came down to what his thoughts were on the village,” said Ferraris. “Where it has stood now, where it has evolved from, and where he thought it should evolve to. We talked a lot about the process, and how he would handle hypothetical situations. In terms of being able to digest information and make educated decisions, I think he really showed he would have the village’s best interest at heart.”

Brown, who along with his wife Gloria, can be seen at virtually every meeting that takes place in Sag Harbor – from village board meetings to library board meetings and forums arranged by the Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor (CONPOSH) – has been an active member of the community, noted Ferraris, a key quality the mayor was looking for in a replacement for Toy.

“He knows the process, and what the planning board is up against,” he said.

For Brown, deciding to throw his name in the hat was a simple decision.

“I live here,” he said on Tuesday. “I figure I have the time to get involved and make it better. This is my home. I can’t see living in a place and sitting in the background doing nothing.”

Brown’s background is in technology. He worked for 25 years at IBM before retiring and starting a small company for himself in New Jersey. Brown and his wife have owned their home in the Chatfield Hills neighborhood of Sag Harbor for 24 years, and are now retired there.

In addition to his service as the co-president of the Chatfield Hills Property Owners Association, Brown is also a member of Save Sag Harbor, has worked with CONPOSH, is a trustee with the Suffolk County Library Association and volunteers at the Sag Harbor Food Pantry each week.

“I know this is going to be quite a challenge,” said Brown. “But at least I know I have the time to devote to this.” 

Neil Slevin

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The Sag Harbor resident and new chairman of the planning board discusses a village in flux and the challenges facing government during times of great change.

Sag Harbor has been in the midst of a great deal of change, including a number of development projects in the heart of the village. Understanding that as a planning board chairman you view each application individually and on its own merits, what is your personal take on development in the village?

Well, I think, aside from the fact that development is an inevitability, I suppose, in general, development can be a good thing. In Sag Harbor’s case, which is different, I think what we have seen is a lot of redevelopment and redevelopment can be good when you are talking about derelict properties like the Bulova building. Development becomes a bit more of a question mark when you are talking about losing open space, for example. So I guess, the only the only thing I can say about development right now is it is clear that as a result of this incredible boom, the pressure on Sag Harbor became very intense. It will be very interesting to see whether that pressure lessens somewhat now, and I suspect it will.

That is an interesting point. With the economy where it is currently, there have been two condo projects the planning board has already approved in the Bulova Factory and at West Water Street and you are in the midst of an environmental review on a third. How many condos does one village need and should that be considered?

I think absolutely. In fact, at the scoping session for the development of Ferry Road, [Sag Harbor Inn co-owner Nathiel] Egosi mentioned something that I had actually raised to the applicant’s attorney at an earlier meeting, which is, what if this fails? What will it be like for the Village of Sag Harbor if we have a substantially larger building than has ever been there before sitting empty? And I don’t think that question is idle speculation … the Bulova building did go derelict, so I actually think this is a valid question – not just a valid question, but the key question in front of all the boards as we go through this process. What is it that we need? What is more than we need? What should we have in any place whether it be the waterfront or the heart of downtown in the business district?

The village’s revamp of its zoning code should help dictate just that. Sag Harbor is in the midst of this zoning code re-write, which you were actually a pretty big part of, working with village attorney Anthony Tohill, village planner Richard Warren, mayor Greg Ferraris and trustee Tiffany Scarlato. What was, in your mind, the most important thing that needed to be protected in the re-write of the zoning code?

I think Greg Ferraris stated it very well early on in the process. As you know, Tiffany Scarlato was the one who was really urging that the code be looked at in a comprehensive way and changed as necessary because it really has been 20 years. In the early meetings, Greg was able to articulate what, at the end of the day, we are actually trying to accomplish. It was really a very simple statement, but kind of an astounding challenge to everyone, and particularly in light of the fact that I think Greg realizes that development and redevelopment are necessary. What he said was that what we now have in Sag Harbor is a pretty nice place. People are coming out of every corner of the community, of late, and basically in their own way, and in different ways, saying this place is terrific. We want it to remain terrific. And what Greg was saying was that we need to, on one hand, maintain that wonderful ambiance we now have and, on other hand, we have to construct a code that allows for appropriate development, appropriate change. The key is, we have a gem – it’s a cliché, but it really is true. I have a friend, who lives in a really nice golf community in North Carolina. He came up two summers ago and we went to lunch at The Dockside with his wife and he turned to me and said, why would you ever think about leaving this place? And I said, I don’t … I know everyone feels that way, but we can get caught up in everything that we are doing, like starting a family, where we forget, we are pretty lucky. When I walk to the village, or walk down West Water Street, I stop and think, whoa, this is two blocks from where I live. This is pretty nice.

One issue that has come up, and you certainly are familiar with the Bulova application, is the need for affordable housing in Sag Harbor. It was an application that did have a lot of support from a number of members of the community, but there were also a number of members of the community who really wanted to see on-site affordable housing. Now that the application has been approved, how do you feel about the planning board’s decision and is there anything different you wish the board had done?

Oh no. I know it was the right decision for me, and the community. Having said that — and I tried to say this during this whole conversation about this issue — the people who highlighted the affordable housing issue did a tremendous job. They might have been accused of beating a dead horse, but they really, really did a tremendous job. I can remember attending one of the early meetings where the developer came and spoke to community groups to talk about what they wanted to do, and one person, maybe two brought up the issue of affordable housing. I can remember when they brought that issue up to the developer, thinking to myself, you have to be crazy. At that point, without having seen the numbers, I knew the cost of developing that property was going to be so high, no one would ever think about putting affordable housing in, nor did I think it was possible to force them to put it in.

What I realized throughout the next two years was, nothing happens that isn’t forced. The status quo is a hard thing to push against and you need people like those affordable housing advocates to push against things because they make you take a step back and ask, why can’t we do this? I think, largely as a result of their efforts, we now have $2.5 million in seed money for the village housing trust. I don’t know that without their efforts the community would have understood that we do have a right to say to a developer, you cannot just come in and make money off a community without the community having the opportunity to get some advantage back.

One of the biggest arguments the affordable housing advocates had was you cannot have a village of empty houses. I mean, weekenders are wonderful and a valid part of our community, but they cannot serve on the boards. And some are not even weekenders – they only come a few times a year. That is not good, it’s not healthy. And when Greg Ferraris said we want to keep the village as much like it is now, going into the future, I would say the same about the people we have here. We need regular people, because it is the regular people that will be the contributing members of the community.

How do you think village government has been handling this flux in the village?

It’s been great the way [the board of trustees] have handled things. In comparison to what we have had in the past, village government has been so much more open and competent in the face of challenges. Everyone thinks it is so easy …

Speaking of, you have served the village for some time now. Would you ever consider running for an elected position in village government?

I don’t. I am retired and I would like to be able to get away more than I have in the last two years. I would like to be away from here, as most people would, in the really cold months. The cold weather tends to keep you indoors, unless you are George Pharaoh and enjoy slogging around in cold water, which I don’t. So, I don’t think it’s in the cards; but what I have been doing is racking my brains thinking about who I can suggest to run for office or serve on one of these boards.

What do you see as future issues the village will face?

I think there is going to be an acknowledgment that the housing issue is an important issue for the simple reason that otherwise we will have an empty village – it will be hollow, there will be no one here. We will have to hope the people who decorate their lights at Christmas use timers because otherwise when I take my walks through the village during the holidays there will not be any Christmas trees or lights. And I don’t want that, nor does anyone else, including the people who aren’t here. I think what those people want to buy into and are spending all this money for, is they want a place that is like you want it to be. That is what they are paying for – the nice thing the long time members of the community have created and so we are protecting all our interests. Part of that is: how many high end condos do we need? Is that a further contribution to the community or is it an exacerbation of a problem we all recognize?

I think the zoning code that is being finally worked out now will contain some important changes that will protect the character of the downtown … Ralph Lauren, I walked by it the other day, and it’s a nice window. Hey, I like those clothes, I wear his clothes, but I can go to Vero Beach and go to Ralph Lauren. Again, it’s another cliché, but what we have here, it works and we would like to keep it.   

ZBA Grants Approval For Bulova Watchcase Factory Project

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With little to no fanfare and just a handful of people looking on, the Sag Harbor zoning board of appeals formally gave their approval to the proposed project at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory. The moment officially ends one of the more contentious chapters in the village’s review of the luxury condo project and places the project sponsors, Sag Development Partners, mere steps away from being able to move forward with the restoration and redevelopment of the historic landmark in the heart of Sag Harbor Village.

Sag Development Partners is hoping to redevelop the property into 65 luxury condo units in the factory building and eight newly constructed townhouses. The project, which is designed in the hopes of reaching a platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, also boasts a recreation center with glass enclosed pool and underground parking facility.

On Tuesday, August 19 the zoning board, with Chairman Michael Bromberg abstaining after he recused himself last month, formally voted to overturn a Suffolk County Planning Commission mandate that the project include 20 percent on-site housing.

It also voted in favor of approving five variances needed for the project to move forward in its current incarnation, including several that allow historic elements like a chimney and water tower to be built outside village code height restrictions. A special exception permit was also approved, which allows a residential apartment building in the village business district.

It was the housing vote, not the variances that divided members of the Sag Harbor community over the course of the last year and a half.

Throngs of people called for on-site affordable housing at a March 2007 public hearing on the project, and a subsequent letter from the Suffolk County Planning Commission mandating 20 percent on-site affordable housing left many believing it was a foregone conclusion. Sag Development Partners, in turn, expressed concerns that they would have to walk away from the project should they be forced to include on-site housing, and instead made a series of financial offers to the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust – a branch of the village’s own affordable housing plan. The final offer weighed in at just over $2.5 million in lieu of the 13 on-site units requested by the county.

Both the planning and zoning boards had to vote with a supermajority, or four of five members, in order to override the planning commission. After some initial hesitation by planning board chairman Jerome Toy this spring, the planning board overrode the county. Last month, with Bromberg personally choosing to recuse himself after being one of the biggest critics of accepting money in lieu of housing, the rest of the zoning board unanimously agreed to override the county in a straw poll vote. That vote was made official this Tuesday, without a single comment from the board or the scant few residents in attendance. 

Next week, on Tuesday, August 26, the planning board is expected to grant the project site plan approval – the last village approval needed for the project to move forward. A building permit will have to formally be issued by the village building department before any construction can begin on the site. No construction schedule has been set for the start of the project, although Sag Development Partners has promised the village it will only work during the off-season, and not during the summer season.

                                                       Group for the East End

While the Bulova project may be sailing easily through the end of its environmental review, the village is still in litigation with the Group for the East End over the planning board’s decision to give the project a negative declaration.

Under the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) of any project, a negative declaration means a project is not subject to further environmental review through an environmental impact statement as it does not feel the project presents the potential for a significant adverse environmental impact.

Since the environmental review of the Bulova project began in the village over two years ago, the Group for the East End has steadfastly called for an impact statement, but in March the planning board disagreed with the not-for-profit, adopting the negative declaration. Shortly thereafter, the Group filed suit against the village and its planning board.

The lawsuit, filed with the state supreme court, seeks to annul the negative declaration the planning board granted the project and asks the court to order the village to issue a positive declaration and require a draft environmental impact statement. The suit also asks the court to award the Group, and petitioners Eliza Werner, Kate Evarts, Dolores Fenn, Carol Magidoff and Barry Magidoff the costs and disbursements of this action and other relief “the court deems just and proper.”

Last week, the village responded to the Group’s suit through village attorney Anthony Tohill. In his submission to the court, he argues for dismissal of the suit on a basis that the adoption of the negative declaration is not “ripe for judicial review” as any SEQR review is incident to a site plan review. Site plan review, argues Tohill, had yet to be completed when the Group filed its suit this spring and is still yet to be finished by the village planning board. Until the board has awarded site plan approval – the last action in a review – the case law argues no party could be injured by the negative declaration. 

 

Housing Trust Set To Move Forward

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With a proposed zoning code that includes a handful of affordable housing provisions, and $2.524 million dollars expected to flow into the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust should the condo project at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory get the green light, the village is poised to embark on its first affordable housing program over the course of the next year.

This week, Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris announced two board members have already been selected to serve the housing trust, and expects the board will be fully formed in two months time. Groundwork is also being laid for inter-municipal agreements with neighboring governments for funding of the trust. In addition to a number of inclusionary zoning provisions for commercial projects – expected to be adopted in the proposed zoning code – Ferraris expects the board of trustees to consider inclusionary zoning provisions in residential districts to help bolster the housing trust’s coffers, and therefore affordable housing in the Sag Harbor School District.

Last year, affordable housing emerged as a central debate surrounding the proposed development of 65 luxury condo units at the historic factory building on Division Street after the Suffolk County Planning Commission (SCPC) handed down a mandate in April asking the developers to include 20 percent on-site affordable housing. The motion placed both the planning and zoning board of appeals in a position to overrule the SCPC, which both have done, although the zoning board of appeals must make their ruling official during their August meeting.

Just months after the SCPC’s mandate was passed down, Mayor Ferraris announced the village would create its own housing program with the Long Island Housing Partnership’s administration in order to create workforce housing in the village of Sag Harbor.

Dubbed the Local Residential Housing Plan (LRHP), Mayor Ferraris rolled out a proposal that included the creation of zoning that would promote second story residential uses on the second floor of businesses in the village business district and incentive and inclusionary zoning provisions in what would become the proposed village zoning code. He also discussed legalizing the numerous existing, and illegal, accessory apartments in the village as a method of increasing the village’s housing stock.

As a part of the inclusionary zoning provisions laid out in the LRHP, Ferraris introduced the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust (SHCHT), a not-for-profit corporation which would be formed and run by an independent board of community leaders and would be funded by the inclusionary zoning in the proposed code. The SHCHT, in theory, will provide financial assistance in the form of down payment assistance and low interest financing, but would also seek vacant land and existing structure to develop affordable housing.

While the zoning code being developed by the Village of Sag Harbor will only apply within its municipal boundaries, the LRHP and the housing trust are meant to benefit the whole of the Sag Harbor School District. According to Mayor Ferraris, the housing trust and village will reach out to the towns of East Hampton and Southampton to provide funding through budget line items and will reach out to the Village of North Haven in hopes they will adopt their own inclusionary zoning provisions to benefit the trust as their municipality has residents that stand to be served in its implementation.

The housing trust has already been incorporated and Mayor Ferraris, an accountant, will serve on the board along with real estate agent Stacy Pennebaker and Sag Harbor attorney and former zoning board of appeals member Denise Schoen. According to Ferraris, ideally the board will be fully formed in six to eight weeks and will include someone from the banking industry as well as planning and investment experts and two individuals who have a history in activism and promoting affordable housing.

“I am asking people to come forward,” he said on Friday. “We hope there are people who will step forward to be a part of this.”

Ferraris said thus far the concepts behind the housing trust borrow from municipalities who have successfully created similar trusts, as well as not-for-profits.

“It is not purely municipal and it is not purely for profit,” said Ferraris. In addition to provisions in the code, the housing trust will also seek charitable contributions and grants from political and private foundations, he said, as a part of the revenue stream. 

In the proposed zoning code, accessory apartments in residential and village business districts are allowed with a special exception permit. In the residential district, homeowners seeking to legalize accessory apartments may qualify for a loan from the SHCHT in order to do so. Building owners in the village business district will be offered the incentive of a sewer rent waiver for the accessory unit. Twenty percent of any new apartments in the village business district must be accessory apartments under the proposed code. Permits will be issued by an accessory apartment review board, and no more than 50 in the residential district will be approved.

“We will see how it goes for a year to 18 months,” said Ferraris. “If we are not helping matters we can always change things.”

For apartments to be built in the newly proposed Office District, which includes the proposed Ferry Road condo project, inclusionary zoning will be mandated, asking that 10 percent of the units be affordable. In lieu of on-site housing, developers may instead pay $372,000 per unit into the SHCHT. Proposed apartment buildings with five or less units will not be required to provide on-site housing, but will have to pay $186,000 into the SHCHT.

Ferraris said after the proposed code is adopted, the board of trustees will also consider inclusionary zoning regulations in the residential district. In concept those provisions place a cap on the size of a home, and any home over that square footage must pay into the SHCHT. New subdivision regulations, added Ferraris, are also expected to have inclusionary zoning provisions attached to them.

The next meeting on the village’s proposed zoning code will be held on Monday, August 4 at 6 p.m. 

Bulova Hurdles Slipping Away

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Barring a dramatic turn of events, after several critical votes were made by the zoning board of appeals in favor of the condo project at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory, it appears that development is scant steps away from being approved in the Village of Sag Harbor.

On Tuesday, July 15 four members of that board, without their chairman, voted in favor of overturning a Suffolk County Planning Commission recommendation for 20 percent on-site housing in the 65-unit luxury development. In return Sag Development Partners has promised a $2.524 million contribution to the proposed Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust.

The vote was conducted in an unofficial straw poll, although it was meant to reflect the board’s ultimate decision and provide village attorney Anthony Tohill the tools to draft a formal resolution for next month’s meeting.

This brings to an end months of debate in front of both the planning and zoning boards on the affordable housing front. Both boards needed to vote via a supermajority, or four members, in order to overrule the county. While the planning board voted in favor of overruling the county this spring, it was unclear until Tuesday which way the zoning board would sway, although its chairman Michael Bromberg has expressed his concern about the proposed housing trust and its ability to actually provide affordable housing.

It was the most vocal member of this board that would ultimately not have a voice in the issue, as Bromberg recused himself from the Bulova application Tuesday night.

Last week Bromberg received a letter from attorney William Esseks of Esseks, Hefter & Angel, one of a number of firms representing Sag Development Partners, demanding his recusal. Esseks took issue with statements Bromberg made during the June zoning board of appeals hearing on the application, specifically when he referred to a “backroom deal” between an unnamed village source and the developers regarding the village affordable housing trust. Esseks charged Bromberg’s statements showed bias against the project and defamed both his clients and village officials, although he failed to specify whom.

While Bromberg confirmed last week he would in fact recuse himself, he explained the reasoning at Tuesday night’s meeting, noting he was recusing himself not at Esseks’ request.

After reading the letter, said Bromberg, he researched some of the case law Esseks cited. He said it was specific to people who made decisions on matters that had yet to come before them — not the case here. 

“The law is pretty simple, unless there is a reason for judicial disqualification, disqualification a matter of personal discretion,” said Bromberg. He added he did not believe he had defamed anyone in his comments, but even if he had, it would not require his recusal.

Bromberg added he objected to the notion that he would recuse himself based on a threat, therefore setting a precedent for those who sit on the zoning board. He denied Esseks’ request and then announced he would recuse himself for his own reasons.

“I don’t see a win in this situation,” said Bromberg, adding he did not want to see the project fail, but had issues with a housing trust that spends money outside of the village. The village’s housing trust is proposed to serve the Sag Harbor School District.

 “I know strongly, in order to save Sag Harbor, you have to make it affordable for the people to serve Sag Harbor,” said Bromberg.

He then left the room after turning the reins over to board member Anton Hagen.

On the housing front, board member Kathy Radziewicz noted that last month she had asked if anyone would come forward at Tuesday’s meeting to express their wish to have an affordable unit in the historic factory building.

“Is there anyone here who would like to make this case,” she asked the crowd of roughly 30 people.

Real estate agent Jane Holden, a staunch supporter of the Bulova condo project, began to speak, but Radziewicz stopped her.

“I know the realtors’ side of this argument,” she said. “I want to hear from someone else.”

Jeremy Samuelson, with Group for the East End, said he had spoken with several people, none who could be at the meeting, as he noted long commutes and second jobs can get in the way of attending a zoning board meeting. Those people, he said, would be interested in an affordable unit.

“I would ask if you have 13 units, is that balanced out by $2.5 million on the other side of the scale,” he said.

“I have spoken to many people this month as well,” said Radziewicz. “For the most part, they feel how I feel. If they have a few children they would rather live in a house with a yard.”

Hagen later agreed, adding he had confidence the trust would be able to provide affordable housing in Sag Harbor.

 “This is a little repetitious, but this has been a very difficult decision for me,” said board member Benedetta Deubel. “I came to the conclusion that there is not a perfect decision, but the best decision for Sag Harbor, which is why I am voting for the override.”

“I think it’s the best thing for Sag Harbor, so I am voting for the override,” ended board member Gayle Pickering, prompting a round of applause from the crowd.

The board also approved four height variances for historic structures on the building, including a brick octagonal tower, a brick water tower and wooden water tank, a brick chimney and a brick tower at the corner of Church and Sage streets. They also approved a variance to allow for a brick tower to screen mechanical equipment and for a special exception permit to allow the residential facility in the village business district.

“The decision was not unexpected,” said Samuelson on Wednesday. “Obviously we don’t think it is a good idea. It is no surprise the village is moving along as quickly as they can. We still think they could have and should have done better.”

“It’s obviously a huge step forward for the project,” said Sag Development Partners spokesman David Kronman on Wednesday. “We still have to get through the rest of the site plan approval process, but at this point we have relatively minor issues to resolve.”

The Bulova project has already received historic preservation and architectural review board approval, as well as harbor committee approval. The project will be in front of the planning board on Tuesday, July 22. The zoning board of appeals will officially adopt its decision on the project on August 19. 

Top: An artists rendering of the condo project at former Bulova Watchcase Factory as seen from Church Street. Middle: Members of the zoning board of appeals following Tuesday’s meeting. Bottom: Project spokesman David Kronman is congratulated by village residents and business owners following Tuesday’s meeting. (k menu photos)

 

Concerns Over Canopy

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The historic preservation and architectural review board (ARB) counted itself the first of the Sag Harbor Village boards to grant approval for the condo project at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory on Thursday, July 10. The following week the project received harbor committee approval and tentative zoning board of appeals approval, paving the way for final approval on the 65-unit luxury condo project.

But ARB chairman Cee Scott Brown knows this certainly won’t be the last time his board sees this project as the developers, Sag Development Partners, embark on resurrecting and redeveloping the historic factory building. On Thursday, before giving the project its stamp of approval, the board requested continued jurisdiction over the architectural details of the project. In particular, the board asked that Sag Development Partners return when they have finalized plans for an entryway on Church Street, as well as plans for a mechanical door on Division Street, which will lead to the underground garage.

The main concern is the overall design of a glass canopy at the entryway on Church Street. They requested the entryway be simplified, with board member Robert Tortora suggesting it simply be a wrought iron fence and gate.

“The ‘60s aspect of the pedestrian entrance feels too much like Sutton Place,” mused Brown.

The other minor issue, said Tortora, is a concern that what is now appearing as a perforated metal door at the entrance to the underground garage could be unsightly.

“It’s one of the issues we have had from the get-go,” said Brown.

Spokesman for Sag Development Partners David Kronman said the firm had yet to settle on a door.

“It’s a big deal,” replied Brown.

Village attorney Anthony Tohill suggested they add the requirement for continued jurisdiction into their approval, as with a project of this magnitude these are likely not the only design issues to arise once construction commences.

For Brown, and the rest of the board, after over a year of meetings, there was little to discuss.

“Certainly as chair of this board I would be happy to endorse this project 100 percent,” he said.

“We want to thank you for great, great advice,” said Kronman. “It’s a far better project than when we started.”

For the second month in a row, a modular home proposed on Hillside Drive East for Gena Lovett and Charles Jones became the subject of debate, although this time around it was neighbors, and not the board, that took issue with the project.

Contractor John Distefano is proposing to build the project and came back to the board this month with a number of revisions to the proposal at the request of the board, including moving the entire 3,300 square-foot residence and garage over five feet on the lot.

Other changes included that the siding be cedar impressions and the windows be centered.

“This is a vast improvement from the first one,” said Tortora of the design.

Eunice Moore, one of two neighbors who attended the meeting, said she was concerned about the size of the house compared to what exists in the community.

“Everything in the plan is as of right,” said Tortora.

A Garden Street residence with a reported five-foot high foundation due to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood plain regulations had many members of the board upset.

“We have to get this FEMA thing under control,” said Tortora, noting when a residence is in a flood plain that requires this elevation they can seek a FEMA variance from the zoning board.

Attorney Tohill noted that if a municipality adopts a policy of granting FEMA variances, FEMA can and will respond, stopping the practice.

“It’s done,” he said of the Garden Street home, which has received ARB approval.

In other news, Bryan Wong was approved for a fence and gate at his Latham Street residence; Larry and Maria Baum were approved for new front windows on their 4 Bay Street building, and Jody Allardice was approved for the demolition of an existing shed and reconstruction in kind of the same at 127 Bay Street. 

Above: An artists rendering of the entryway on Church Street to the proposed condo project at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory. (Beyer Blinder Belle architects and planners design and rendering)

Bromberg Out on Bulova

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Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Michael Bromberg will recuse himself from Sag Development Partners application for luxury condominium units at the former Bulova Watchcase Factory, he said on Tuesday.

“I don’t think I have to recuse myself,” he said. “I choose to.”

Bromberg said he would explain why he was choosing to do so at the next zoning board of appeals meeting on Tuesday, July 15 at 6:30 p.m.

Bromberg revealed the decision following the receipt of a letter from attorney William Esseks of Esseks, Hefter & Angel — one of many legal representatives Sag Development Partners has employed during the village’s review of their proposal. In the letter, Esseks is critical of statements Bromberg made at last month’s zoning board of appeals meeting that Esseks said show bias on his part and defamed both Sag Development Partners and village officials, although none specific.

In particular, Esseks said comments alleged by Bromberg about a “backroom” deal between an unnamed source and the developers regarding a village affordable housing trust were “disturbing and quite serious” and showed a bias against the developers.

On Tuesday, Bromberg said he disagreed with Esseks’ assertions.

This is the latest in a number of unexpected turns in the review of the project, which has been going on for almost two years now. Sag Development Partners is seeking to restore, rehabilitate and reuse the historic Division Street factory building in a luxury condo project, which includes an underground parking garage and an indoor pool facility. The project now represents 65 units between the factory building and nine newly constructed townhouses.

Affordable housing has been the most hotly debated aspect of the project for over a year, particularly after the Suffolk County Planning Commission mandated the project include 20 percent on-site affordable units last spring, the equivalent of 13 units under the current plan. The developers, in turn, offered a contribution to the proposed Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust Fund — a concept the Sag Harbor Board of Trustees announced last summer, which uses funding, in part, to provide down payments and loan assistance for affordable housing. It would also be able to expend monies on affordable housing projects throughout the Sag Harbor School District and will be run by an appointed board.

Sag Development Partners has most recently committed to $2.524 million dollars in lieu of providing the on-site housing. In order to overrule the county, however, the zoning board of appeals must rule via a supermajority, or four votes, to accept the money instead. The planning board, which has led the review of the project, has already done so.

Last month, after two months of speculation following the developers’ decision to take a hiatus from the project in order to reevaluate financing, they returned to the zoning board of appeals to once more argue their case on the housing front.

It was that meeting, and the transcript that followed, that led Esseks to pen his letter to Bromberg demanding his recusal.

At the meeting, attorney Dennis Downes, representing Sag Development Partners, outlined pending state law on affordable housing for Nassau and Suffolk Counties, which offers an option for developers to provide affordable housing funding in turn for a density bonus in a housing project. The program is only for developers seeking a density bonus, noted Downes, which Sag Development Partners is not. The density of the project has actually been reduced twice now — once to accommodate both larger apartment spaces and to appease Bromberg’s hope for two parking spaces per unit.

Following the presentation, board members — who did not vote on the housing issue, as board member Anton Hagen was absent for medical reasons — briefly discussed their initial thoughts, although it was Bromberg who was the most vocal of the four.

Bromberg has made no secret that he would like to see on-site housing, or “brick and mortar” instead of money — likening the housing trust to the village’s parking fund, a fund that has provided little actual parking.

But Esseks took issue with a number of Bromberg’s comments, in particular reference to a “back room deal,” alluded to in the minutes of the meeting twice in Bromberg’s discussion of his thoughts on the housing issue.

Esseks charges that the statements “defame our clients.”

“Essentially, in a public pronouncement, you concluded that our client and unnamed Village officials engaged in improper conduct,” writes Esseks to Bromberg.

Esseks points to two statements Bromberg made during the meeting, including: “Secondly, there was some sort of an agreement made in some room somewhere for this in lieu of payment.”

“What I am concerned about is I don’t think there is a willingness on the part of the applicant to stretch,” Bromberg later stated in a portion of the transcript also referenced by Esseks. “Because it’s been my musing that they think that this is a done deal because of whatever backroom deal they made for this trust down the road.”

Esseks counters that the notion of a backroom deal ignores the fact that the trustees have discussed the trust at public meetings.

“It was no secret that the trustees were considering this issue, and were considering it in context of the Bulova Factory project, as well as other potential developments in the village,” states Esseks.

“Your declaration that our client engaged in some ‘backroom deal’ on this issue is not only contrary to the public nature of the trustee’s proceedings but is unsupported by any evidence,” continues Esseks. “Moreover, your use of the pejorative term ‘backroom deal’ plainly reveals your bias and your privately held and unfounded belief that our client was engaged in wrongdoing and improper conduct.”

Esseks asks for Bromberg’s written recusal before next week’s zoning board of appeals meeting.

However, shortly after receiving the letter on Tuesday, Bromberg said he would recuse himself, although he asserted he did not believe he has done or said anything that would legally require him to do so — it is a matter of choice that he said he would explain publicly during Tuesday’s meeting.

Bulova will also be on the planning board agenda this month, on Tuesday, July 22, for site plan review.

Above: The historic Bulova Watchcase Factory on Division Street in Sag Harbor. (r shapiro photo)

Some New Projects May Get Past Code

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Unless the proposed development projects at the Bulova Watchcase Factory or at the former Diner property, now known as Ferry Road, receive conditional site plan approval from the Sag Harbor Planning Board prior to the adoption of the revised village zoning code, they will be subject to any changes presented in the code, according to Sag Harbor Trustee Tiffany Scarlato.

And that goes for all proposed projects in Sag Harbor, noted Scarlato.

As for the former Bulova project, which has completed its state mandated environmental review under the planning board, conditional site plan approval could be just a meeting or two away. Should the tenuous project move forward on schedule then, it will not likely be subject to the new code.

The 65-unit luxury condominium project is expected to be in front of the Sag Harbor zoning board on Tuesday, July 15 where that board may be asked to rule on an on-site affordable housing requirement handed down by the Suffolk County Planning Commission. The village’s planning board has already overruled the county, favoring instead to accept a now $2.57 million contribution to the proposed Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust.

The project is also slated for the planning board’s agenda on July 22. The developers have maintained, however, if they are required to dedicate 20 percent of the units to affordable housing, they will be unable to move forward with the project.

“I think there is probably a good possibility that Bulova could have conditional site plan approval by the time we adopt the code,” said Scarlato.

On the other hand, Ferry Road, a proposed 18-unit condominium project overlooking the Sag Harbor- North Haven Bridge, has yet to begin its required State Environmental Quality Review under the planning board, which can take several months. That review must be concluded before site plan review or any approvals can be considered by any board in Sag Harbor.

The Village of Sag Harbor has been in a commercial moratorium for over year while the board of trustees have been in the throes of having the village’s zoning code revamped and modernized. Regardless, various village boards have been in the process of reviewing application for development projects in Sag Harbor – many of which were exempt from the moratorium because applications were filed prior to its adoption, and others which have received exemption from the village planning board.

But being exempt from the moratorium does not automatically trigger a project’s exemption from the new code once it is adopted, and as Scarlato pointed out on Tuesday, the village is not required to be as lenient as it has chosen to be.

“If we chose to not make a statement about exemption at all, only those with vested rights would be exempt from the code,” she said. A vested right translates into a project that not only has received final approval, but also a building permit and has shown actual construction has begun to take place at the site.

Scarlato said the board of trustees considered a more lenient stance for the proposed projects in part because there were various applicants asking the village to consider exempting them.

“It was a decision based on what’s out there,” she added. “We did have to draw the line somewhere.”

Two projects that have vested rights, and therefore would not be subject to the proposed code, are the condominiums on West Water Street and the Loeffler office building being constructed on Bay Street.

James Giorgio’s office building and apartments in the former Havens bar and lounge on Bridge Street is the only application that has received conditional site plan approval, but has yet to start construction.

Sag Harbor Village officials are still in the process of reviewing and revising the draft code, and have maintained they will continue to have public meetings on the land-use document until all residents and taxpayers have been heard on every issue. The next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, July 12 at 8:30 a.m. The Village Board of Trustees will hold its monthly meeting as well as its re-organizational meeting on Tuesday, July 8. 

Death Knell Sounding?

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When a company takes a step back from a development project it is never a good sign, which was why we were dismayed, and are frankly concerned, about this week’s news that Sag Development Partners will take the next 60 days to assess the restoration and rehabilitation of the former Bulova Watchcase Factory.

For many of us in the Village of Sag Harbor, including this paper, this action signifies the very real possibility that the project sponsors will pull out or alter what is a beautifully crafted design in order to contend with the rapidly declining, and to a certain extent non-existent, credit and housing markets.

We find even the mere possibility of the historic Bulova building continuing to sit shrouded in decay and rot, frankly, depressing. When this project was first proposed it seemed, almost, as if its approval was a foregone conclusion, albeit with massive amounts of tweaking by our venerable boards and numerous conditions associated with it.

A majority of us who live in Sag Harbor had prayed for this moment, whether because of the tax benefits, the boost to our local economy, or simply because we did not want to drive down Division Street and watch the Bulova building slowly crumble into a $10 million parking lot in front of our eyes.

But the twists and turns associated with this project have been hard to anticipate — from an affordable housing debate that seemed to reach a boiling point where many forgot about the rest of the project, to concerns about litigation, to other municipalities, frankly, not even sure how they should be involved, weighing in, then not weighing in and then weighing in again.

Should this project actually die, while some in the community have placed a large amount of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the village — either for not pushing this project through or for not conducting an environmental review in the way they believed most appropriate — we reject this notion.

The village boards, especially the planning board, scheduled an inordinate amount of special meetings representing hundreds of hours and reams upon reams of paperwork, in order to fully evaluate this proposal. They should be commended for this effort, no matter the outcome, as they have volunteered their personal time to fulfill a civic duty to our community that not many are willing to take on.

We hope the death knell has yet to sound on this project, but if it does, we hope the community places the blame on the true root of its demise — a demise we do not believe falls on the village’s clock.