By Stephen J. Kotz
After a month of behind-the-scenes wrangling over unapproved renovations made at Page at 63 Main, the Sag Harbor Village Board pounced on Friday, July 18, revoking the restaurant’s license for outdoor dining on Main Street.
The village took the action even after one of the restaurant’s attorneys, Dennis Downes said losing the option to offer outdoor dining would cost the restaurant between $7,500 and $10,000 a day and even jeopardize its ability to stay in business.
In an 11th hour bid to appease the village, Mr. Downes said Page’s owners had offered to immediately shut down their Back Page café, behind the main restaurant, until zoning and fire code violations there were rectified and a site-plan issued for the property.
Mr. Downes conceded that mistakes had been made, but said the restaurant had been held up during the planning process and had to do the work before approvals were in hand to be ready for the summer season.
“Without those seats, there is a lot of money being lost,” he said of the outdoor dining. “It could be the difference between being able to stay alive in the winter where there are less people out here.”
But the board would not be swayed. “We’re here talking because when there was a suspension… the right thing would have been to remove the tables and chairs and let’s get to the bottom of this,” Mayor Brian Gilbride said.
He referred to an action taken by building inspector Tim Platt, who had cited the business for doing the renovation work with neither a site plan approval nor a building permit and had ordered it to suspend its outdoor dining service until the charges were sorted out. Instead, he said, the restaurant’s owners “thumbed their nose” at the village.
The board’s action clearly got the restaurant owners’ attention. A few minutes after it revoked the license, and Page’s owners and managers left the Municipal Building grumbling among themselves, waiters and busboys were scurrying about, clearing the tables and chairs from in front of the restaurant before the evening’s dinner rush.
On Tuesday, Mr. Downes, and Tom Horn, another attorney for the restaurant, were in Sag Harbor Village Justice Court for an initial appearance on the restaurant’s behalf. Village Justice Andrea Schiavoni said she would have to recuse herself from hearing the case because of a relationship with one of the restaurant’s owners and adjourned the case until August.
Speaking outside the courtroom, Mr. Horn, who said he had only had time to quickly review the charges against the restaurant, nonetheless expressed confidence it would prevail in court. “I think the charges are technically flawed and actually flawed,” Mr. Horn said, “and I say that based on my 11 years’ experience as a fire marshal.” Before becoming an attorney, Mr. Horn was a fire marshal for East Hampton Town.
The restaurant’s saga took another turn on Tuesday night when Mr. Downes, and Gerard Wawryk, one of its owners, appeared before the Planning Board, trying to straighten out the confusion over the restaurant’s renovation project, which was undertaken this spring.
The key issues revolved around changes to the proposed site plan for the dining area now known as the Back Page Café. At a June 26 village board meeting, then-planning board chairman Neil Slevin said the restaurant had done work that planners had not intended.
That included moving without permission the location of an enclosure that would allow it to keep its dumpsters refrigerated as well as the replacement of a grass waiting area with a bluestone patio.
One of the village’s attorneys, Denise Schoen, said that the wooden Dumpster building, which had been placed next to a fence beside Murph’s Backstreet Tavern and connected to the electric service, posed a fire hazard, a charge the restaurant’s owners denied.
Ms. Schoen added that the Back Page had originally been presented as a waiting area, where restaurant patrons could enjoy a drink or hors d’oeuvres while waiting for a table inside, but had, in fact, been turned into an outdoor expansion of the restaurant.
Mr. Downes has said the planning board approved the changes when it accepted a new survey of the site last winter, but board members said it was an oversight.
Despite the disagreement, planning board members were amenable to tweaking the site plan for the Back Page and said they would okay the bluestone patio even though it would exceed the allowable lot coverage because it was served by sufficient drainage.
But planners said they would not allow the dumpster enclosure to remain in its current location because it effectively eliminated the restaurant’s driveway and prevented delivery trucks from backing in off the street, forcing them to instead block one lane of traffic on Division Street.
On Tuesday, Mr. Wawryk offered to remove the dumpster building and replace it with two smaller enclosures that would be set back on either side of the driveway farther from Division Street to provide space for delivery trucks.
Planners said they would send a memo supporting the changes to the village Zoning Board of Appeals, which has held off on a decision on the restaurant’s application for variances, pending a resolution of the site plan issues.
At last week’s special meeting, when the board informed Page’s owners that it was considering revoking the restaurant’s outdoor dining privilege, Mr. Downes tried at first to argue that it was “a was “a valuable property right” that the village could not revoke without “due process.”
Village attorney Fred W. Thiele Jr. called those charges “ludicrous,” adding that the village only charged $100 for a license and said if outdoor seats were as valuable as Mr. Downes said they were, the village should be charging more. “It’s a privilege to use public property for a private use,” Mr. Thiele said.