Tag Archive | "Greg Ferraris"

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


Last Time for Grievance Day?

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On Tuesday afternoon, Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris, trustees Brian Gilbride and Ed Gregory, and Village Hall Registrar Sandra Schroeder sat in the Municipal Building’s meeting room and waited for local residents to grieve their property tax assessments. The afternoon is referred to as ‘Grievance Day,’ and gives village property owners, who believe their properties have been over assessed, the chance to plea their case before the village board.

Overall, there were only three visitors, or grievers, who made it on Tuesday. According to Ferraris, this number was a little less than in previous years, but he added that a reassessment was done a few years ago. A number of grievances were mailed in and then forwarded to the Southampton Town Assessors office. These grievances, along with the claims of the three visitors, will be reviewed by the Southampton Town Assessors office, as the village doesn’t have an independent assessing office. The Southampton Town Assessment review board will be in charge of reviewing the grievances.
Hugh Merle, a lawyer from Westhampton, came before the board to present a village resident’s claim. Before taking on cases of over assessed property, Merle hires a licensed real estate appraiser to do a thorough appraisal, at the expense of the property owner.

“I want all of my ducks in a row before I present [the case] to the board,” said Merle. “Or else it’s not worth doing.”

This was the first time Merle represented a Sag Harbor property owner, since he usually handles assessments in Westhampton. Sometimes, reported Merle, he will come before the board on behalf of ten to fifteen different clients.

This might be the last year the Sag Harbor village board will hold a Grievance Day. After East Hampton Town completes a town wide assessment at one-hundred percent assessment value, the village board will likely be removed as an assessing unit. With the current process, there is duplication because each grievance case presented to the village is always forwarded to Southampton Town.

“Even though [Grievance Day] is our duty, it is somewhat of a waste of taxpayer money,” said Ferraris. “But until the town of East Hampton completes an assessment, we will continue to hold a Grievance Day.”

Ferraris and Deyermond Won’t Seek Reelection

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As the village faces rising costs, and decreased department revenue, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees has agreed to accept less payment for their services. The decision to cut back, which was made on Tuesday night at the trustees’ monthly meeting, includes the mayor’s salary and will help offset some of the village’s other expenses.

This decision comes in the months leading up to village elections, which will be held on June 16. Among the seats up for grabs will be Ed Deyermond’s village trustee position. Deyermond says he isn’t planning to run for reelection. Last week, Deyermond screened with the local Republican Party for an East Hampton Town Council seat. Deyermond, however, hasn’t formally announced if he will run for a council seat there. He is scheduled to interview with the party again in March.

Village trustee Ed Gregory, whose term also ends in June, hasn’t formally decided if he will run again.

Also coming to an end this June is the term of mayor Greg Ferraris. Ferraris said he does not plan to seek reelection. Prior to his tenure as mayor, Ferraris served on the Sag Harbor Board of Trustees for one full term, and was re-elected to a second term. During that second term, then-mayor Ed Deyermond stepped down, and Ferraris was appointed to fill the vacated seat. In those years, Ferraris notes, the village board faced many controversial issues and as a consequence, the responsibilities of the mayor have increased. Ferraris says he devoted a significant amount of time to his position as mayor, while also maintaining his own accounting business. During an average week, Ferraris estimates he spent 50 to 60 hours working on his own business, in addition to his obligations to the village.

“The demands on the position have increased over the three years I have been here, and well over the six years that I have served on the village board,” said Ferraris. “[Village] issues have become more complex. The demands on the village board from residents have increased.”

Upon completion of his term, Ferraris is looking forward to spending more time with his family, and will perhaps have the opportunity to coach his daughter’s t-ball team. Of his position as mayor, Ferraris said the most gratifying experience has been working with the village employees.

“Whether it be the highway department to the village hall staff, they all work with such pride that you don’t see in other municipalities,” Ferraris said. “The knowledge that I have gained in working with people like [village planning consultant] Richard Warren, [and village attorneys] Tony Tohill and Fred Thiele [has been remarkable.]“

Ferraris added that the board was frequently proactive in handling village affairs. One key to his success as mayor, said Ferraris, was abstaining from pushing a political agenda.

“I don’t believe you can succeed at this level if you try to move forward with a political agenda,” noted Ferraris.

Trustee Brian Gilbride said he will miss Ferraris’ leadership. “It has been a great pleasure working with Greg,” added Gilbride.

At this point, it remains unclear who will fill Ferraris’ shoes, or the two other trustee seats, as no one from the community has stepped forward to announce their candidacy for any of the available positions.

According to village election procedure, interested parties may sign a petition to run as early as March 31. April 6 is the first day the village clerk may accept a nominating position.


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.

Sag Harbor Mayor Expects Budget Cuts

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By Marissa Maier

 As the financial forecast for many municipalities looks bleak in the coming fiscal year, the Sag Harbor Village budget might be comparably brighter.

“I think we will have a good fund balance that will get us through this [fiscal] year,” said village treasurer Eileen Touhy as she delivered her half-year report on the village’s budget at the board of trustee’s meeting on Tuesday, December 9.

Although Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris has proposed to cut the discretionary budget spending by nine percent during this fiscal year, the village’s various reserve funds are still sound and in May, the village ended its 2008 fiscal year with a $9,000 surplus. The village’s fiscal year runs from June through May.

Later, Ferraris cited fiscal responsibility and a historically lean budget, combined with minimal staff increases, as the reason for a relatively stable village budget.

“We are in a better position than other municipalities,” said Ferraris.

In order to avoid a shortfall for this fiscal year, Ferraris suggests the village decrease its discretionary spending. Nearly 80 percent of the village budget is currently used for debt services and contractual obligations — including contracts, social security and pensions for village employees. The remainder of the budget is used for discretionary funding.

Ferraris is proposing to lessen this spending by limiting overtime for police officers. When a special event is held in the village, such as a parade or a charity run, additional police officers are often required to help with traffic and crowd control and are usually paid overtime. Ferraris seeks to curtail this expenditure by asking event planners to provide more volunteers to help with these services onsite.

He also suggests the attrition of certain village positions. For example Robert Miller, a highway employee, resigned earlier this month and Ferraris is looking at leaving this position vacant. Ferraris contends that the attrition of employees would lead to a decrease in services, but he adds that this would be a “short term fix” to weather the current economic crisis.

During this fiscal year, the board is planning to operate on an austerity basis. Some larger projects, such as repairing the fence at the Old Burying Ground, will be shelved until the budget looks more promising.

“We, [the village] couldn’t continue to run at these [austerity] levels,” said Ferraris. “[Budget spending] will decrease even more in the next fiscal year . . . But, if we don’t deal with the situation now, it is just going to exacerbate.”

At the meeting, Touhy highlighted the village’s strong reserve funds. These funds are allotted for different village functions, and each year a certain amount of money is budgeted to go into these funds. Ferraris predicts the village might have to tap into the reserve for some waterfront dock projects in the coming year. Protecting the village waterfront infrastructure is very important, said Ferraris, because the waterfront is a key asset to the village.

Touhy mentioned that maintaining the current assets of the village, which total approximately $9 million, is a chief priority.

“It is a delicate balance to fund and maintain our current assets without burdening our tax payers,” said Ferraris.

When planning the village budget, Ferraris recalls the advice of former village mayor Pierce Hance.

“He said, ‘you don’t prepare for the budget in one sitting, you prepare for it the whole year.’ The board makes [budgetary] decisions on a month to month basis,” said Ferraris. “We are going to try to do what is best for the next budget cycle.”

In February, Ferraris expects the board will begin working on the 2009-2010 fiscal budget.