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Petrello Gets OK, Village Faces Lawsuit

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By Claire Walla


After a controversial demolition hearing and a submission of an unpopular initial building plan, members of the Sagaponack Village Architectural and Historic Review Board (AHRB) finally approved the blueprint for a two-story home submitted by Anthony and Cynthia Petrello. The board made its decision at a regularly scheduled AHRB meeting last Friday, October 21.

And while an OK from the AHRB is typically a relative green light for construction, this case faces another obstacle that may prevent this structure from being built as currently proposed.

As Village Clerk Rhodi Winchell explained it, Petrello’s building application was caught up in a change in regulation. Adopted by the board last spring, the village’s new Coastal Erosion Hazard (CEH) code requires structures on oceanfront properties to be built 125 feet landward of the crest of the properties oceanfront dune. This is about 30 feet back from where Petrello’s proposed his new house to sit.

Petrello has sued the village of Sagaponack over the issue, arguing that because his building plan was approved by the DEC in December of 2010 — before the CEH was adopted — his building plan should not have to conform to the new law.

However, Winchell explained, “they were not vested.”

Had some aspect of the proposed building actually been in the ground, she said Petrello would indeed have been exempted from CEH regulations.

At this point, she added, if Petrello’s suit is successful, then this current building plan — having already been approved by the AHRB — would be able to move forward as is.

Petrello’s architect, John Sprague, explained to the board on Friday that he and chief architect Lisa Zaloga tweaked the building’s exterior to address some of the concerns AHRB board members had shared at a previous meeting. He said the footprint has not changed, but designers took away the breakaway walls the AHRB took issue with, which exposes the actual pilings and the railings of the structure.

However, should Petrello lose the suit, his architects would have to go back to the drawing board. The CEH barrier would push the building back up into a triangular-shaped property, meaning the building’s footprint would have to shrink in order to fit.

Sagaponack Moves into New Digs

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Champagne and Sagaponack Village Board meetings usually never coincide, but on Monday evening board members had good reason to celebrate at the closing of the trustees monthly session. With glasses in hand, the Sagaponack officials feted the inaugural meeting in the new village hall, purchased almost six months ago.
Before acquiring the new digs, the village operated out of a tiny two-room office down the road — on the corner of Montauk Highway and Sagg Main Street. The size of the space resembled a small New York City apartment rather than a village hall and cost $2,040 a month to rent. One room served as village clerk Rhodi Winchell’s office, which she shared with secretary Pat Remkus, but it was crammed with filing cabinets, papers and two bulky desks. The other room hosted board meetings, but doubled as building inspector John Woudsma’s office, and was so small the planning board often saw applicants in shifts.
“For planning board meetings it was absolutely standing room only,” recalled Winchell. “Anytime we had public hearings we had to use another space … like the Sagaponack school house.”
By December 2007, village officials started to look around for a permanent, and roomier, location. Winchell said the village explored every available option, from purchasing land to finding a new rental location. Their first goal, however, was to stay within the incorporated village of Sagaponack.

After extensive research, the village found a three-bedroom home for sale on Montauk Highway. The house was a converted barn and previously owned by a soundtrack producer. The list price was $1.2 million.
To finance the project, the village put the purchase to a vote. In August 2008, residents approved $2 million for the acquisition of the home. The village, however, only took out a $1.5 million bond anticipation notice (BAN), and used the remaining funds for building renovations.
For the most part, the building was structurally sound, but the southern and eastern walls of the former living room needed to be shored up and the roof was heightened. Now the room will be used for village board meetings and public hearings. The first floor bathroom was made handicap accessible and the village outfitted the hall with soft recessed lighting. Other repairs made to the building were mostly cosmetic.
“One bedroom was painted a salmon pink … and the kitchen was painted a dingy yellow,” said Woudsma. The village opted to cover the walls in white and ivory. The former kitchen was converted into a lunch area and foyer, which is partitioned by French doors. The walls separating one bedroom and the previous owner’s music mixing studio were knocked out and now serve as a large office area.
The final product is a polished, yet comfortable looking building with plenty of space for village operations. In the new meeting hall, sun streams in through the French doors in the back of the room and two colorful lithographs, created and donated by local artist Robert Dash, adorn the walls.

Although the building was renovated, design details from its past remain. Dark wood beams are found on almost every ceiling. One wall in the conference room — which was an addition built in the 1980s — is lined with white-painted shingles and was the original exterior of the building.
Part of the building’s charm, said Woudsma, is its hodgepodge of architectural elements, many of which cannot be historically placed. Two closets installed in the 1980s boast vintage porcelain doorknobs with iron locksets. The cherry wood floors look original to the barn, but Woudsma maintains they were most likely installed in the 1980s.
Although the current location of the building is on Montauk Highway, it was moved there from the Raymond Magee Farm on Hedges Lane in the early 1960s. The original barn structure was built between the late 1700s or early 1800s. Arthur Baron of the Barons Cove Inn in Sag Harbor moved the building in the 1960s, hoping to convert it into an antique store. Due to zoning constraints, Baron abandoned the project and sold the building as a private home.
In a way, Winchell and Woudsma have made the space into their home. Winchell often greets visitors by saying, “Welcome to our new abode.”
The village staff is still waiting for grass seed to be laid down on the front lawn and plan to create some overflow parking on the southern portion of the property, but for the most part the project is complete.
“We are still unpacking … there is so much space we don’t know what to do with it,” said Winchell. As she continued to file papers into a series of cabinets, Winchell had a second thought.
“No, I think we will find a use for [the space].”

Sagaponack Budget comes in just over $500,000

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On Monday, at their regular board meeting, the Sagaponack board of trustees were given their first look at Mayor Don Louchheim’s tentative budget. The spending plan is expected to be just over half-a-million dollars and residents may be seeing a slight reduction in their property taxes if the tentative budget is adopted.
Louchheim gave his 2009-2010 budget message and during the presentation, announced that, despite the acquisition and renovation of the new village hall, there would be “no increase in the village tax rate, for the third year in a row.”
Further, Louchheim added, “village taxpayers will continue to pay no more in total property taxes than they would have if the village had not been incorporated.”
Total spending in the new budget is estimated at $548,809, down slightly from the $552,873 the year prior.
According to Louchheim, the new debt service costs from the village hall project “will be offset by lower, more realistic projections” of the net costs of the land use department, based on its first full year of operations.
He also noted that village voters approved borrowing up to $2 million for the project — but the total cost of the building was held at $1.5 million and the bond is expected to be less than $1 million.
Louchheim also explained for a home assessed at $1 million, it will cost a homeowner $82.80 in taxes, which is a slight reduction from $83.40 last year.
On Monday, Louchheim also announced projections for revenues other than property taxes including mortgage taxes, franchise taxes and other fees — which he said would be $283,350.
Louchheim said the amount expected to be raised by property taxes would be $265,459. According to the mayor, the tax levy also includes $100,000 to be added to a capital reserve fund for future road improvement projects, as has been done in the last two years.
“During the previous and current fiscal years the village has achieved operating surpluses, primarily as a result of higher than expected mortgage tax receipts,” said Louchheim. He said the bulk of these surplus funds will be used to reduce the amount borrowed for the village hall project.
Although village voters approved borrowing up to $2 million for the project, the total cost of the new village hall and renovations to the property were held at $1.5 million. According to Louchheim, the bond issue amount for the new village hall is expected to be no more than $1 million.
“The new budget includes a one-time expense of $37,000 in fees for the bond issue and a debt service cost of $74,854 for 2009-2010,” the mayor said. He added that until the bond is retired, the annual debt service amount will be “about the same.”
“So there should be no adverse debt service impact on future tax rates,” said the mayor.
In closing, Louchheim said he was proud of the young village government, which he added has achieved a “great deal in a short period of time.”
“We are fortunate to have truly involved and highly motivated residents on our board of trustees and two land use boards, as well as a talented, dedicated and enthusiastic administrative staff,” said Louchheim who told the trustees he believed they would find the budget to be fairly “straight forward.”
In the tentative budget, revenue from the building department is projected to be half of what was collected over 2008-2009. Likewise, mortgage tax revenue is also expected by the mayor to see a reduction of $122,620 over last year.
Trustee Alfred Kelman said the budget appeared to be a “superb analysis.”
On Monday, March 23, there will be a work session on the tentative budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, at 4 p.m. at village hall in Sagaponack.
In other Sagaponack news, the village hall is moving forward as planned. The building repairs and “touch-ups” have been completed, according to the mayor. The parking lot and the sidewalk were expected to be finished earlier this week.
Kelman said he visited the new site on Monday and joked that he engraved his initials into the sidewalk.
Village clerk Rhodi Winchell gave other updates for the new village hall and how it is progressing. She said the sprinkler and lawn are now completed, the fencing and floors have been re-done and the phone system has been ordered.
Louchheim said he is working on buying lumber and finishing a new table for the village hall.
The trustees also looked at some possible signage for the new building. Deputy Mayor Lee Foster showed a possible design of the new sign that would hang outside village hall along Montauk Highway.
Trustee Joy Sieger was concerned about the size of the lettering on the sign that was estimated to be four inches in height. She said motorists might have a hard time making out the wording.
Sieger also noted that a flag pole would need to be considered for their new hall.

Sorting Out Summer Soirees Before Season

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Sagaponack Village officials are plugging away on requests to hold parties, due to their recent adoption of a local law pertaining to outdoor assembly permits, and are planning some changes to help the process move along faster.

At their regular board meeting on Tuesday, Sagaponack trustee Joy Sieger voiced her concerns about the way the process for obtaining an outdoor assembly permit is presently done.

Currently, the village asks for a letter of intent to hold an outdoor bash six months in advance with an application to be filled out four months in advance.

Sieger acknowledged that the village made a conscious effort to deal with outdoor events last year by adding the new local law, but now that the law has been enacted, officials have noticed missing information in the dozen or so letters of intent they have already received. Those questions surrounded issues dealing with parking, number of attendees — and for charitable affairs — the percentage that will go to the beneficiary.

Sieger said that she and village clerk Rhodi Winchell would like to suggest altering the law so that the village would require an application and a required letter of intent submitted together — both six months prior.

That way, the village would be able to get a better picture of the proposed event.

“We believe that by just submitting the application form along with the letter of intent would give us more information and we wouldn’t have to do all this waiting around,” Sieger said.

The trustees seemed to all agree that was a good idea, but trustee Alfred Kelmann said he wants to know precisely, “what proceeds are going to the local charities,” when dealing with benefits.

“We need to get to the heart of this thing,” he said, asking that parties not be run “as a business but as a local event.”

For now, Mayor Don Louchheim said the letters of intent would not be approved until the full application is filled out.

As the trustees went over a few pending letters of intent for summer 2009, they discussed which of the events are “rooted locally.”

“That is a distinction we need to make,” Deputy Mayor Lee Foster said.

“We have the right to say no, without any explanation,” argued Kelmann, “we are extending ourselves by even creating a policy.”

Audience member and Group for the East End’s Director of Development, Judy Christrup, then offered some advice.

“Can I make a suggestion,” she asked, “you could ask them what their numbers were last year, and if they’ve never had it before, they could give you a projection. It costs a lot of money to put on an outdoor event here, so you have to have some high contributors to actually make a profit,” she continued.

“Well, it costs a lot of money to stage a truly non-profit event and they may raise nothing. They could spend $5000 and bring in $250 bucks,” Kelmann said.

After going over some other letters of intent and closing that portion of the meeting, Louchheim said, “It’s a learning curve, but we are getting somewhere here.”

 

The New Village Hall

 

By the end of the week, the new village hall in Sagaponack is expected to be near completion, according to the mayor. He said the village is “right on target” with their February 28, deadline. 

There were some minor repairs being done since the village bought the property at 3175 Montauk highway in October. The sole remaining component would be the excavation of the parking lot, which will be completed by the end of March or beginning of April, when paving plants in the area re-open.

Louchheim also said there is an old sewer line at the new location, measuring 12 feet that may be replaced.

The village plans to move into the new hall in a month and half, if there are no other major problems.

 

Push for Preservation in Sagaponack

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The Village of Sagaponack is considering amendments to the village code in order to find ways to encourage historic preservation within its borders.

At their monthly work session, the village board of trustees listened as chairwoman of the architectural and historic review board (AHRB) Ana Daniel spoke of the recent demolition of historic buildings within the village.

Daniel expressed concerns about a request to demolish a historic barn-like structure on Parsonage Lane. Daniel said she felt it was “a preferable solution” to keep the house as a guest house, rather than demolish it and build a garage, which was the final decision by the AHRB. Because the owners of the property wanted to build a residential house on the rear of the property, the smaller structure would not be allowed by village code to stay as an additional residential structure.

Daniel said the owners of the property on Parsonage Lane were willing to restore the structure and then the AHRB could accept it as a historic structure rather than what she said looked like “a Hollywood set.”

 “It offends me, personally,” Daniel said about the destruction of these types of buildings overall.

The viable solution, Mayor Don Louchheim said, “is to have code amendments to encourage preservation for buildings deemed historic.”

This, he added, would give the zoning board the right to grant variances and other boards the right to offer waivers.

 “We don’t want to try and mandate,” but Louchheim added, “You have to mandate something to create incentives.”

“We want to make clear that we want historical preservation in the most extreme way possible,” Daniel said.

Trustee Alfred Kelman, said that the dialogue between the board of trustees and the AHRB is healthy, and that is the purpose of the various boards. Although he reminded the room, “They [property owners] have the right to challenge the village.”

“Somebody should get something for preservation,” Louchheim said, “in one way or another there should be a benefit.”

Louchheim said that in order to get historical preservation, the village may want to consider what the residents want and what would be a reasonable compromise “to permit one in order to preserve the other,” he said.

“What would you give?” Louchheim asked Daniel.

“What would be reasonable?” she replied, “These are very case specific.”

Trustee and AHRB liaison, Lisa Duryea Thayer said that there are three applications looking to the board for guidance.

Louchheim said that the board would like to put something in the code, but they would like to first consult with village attorney, Anthony Tohill.

“If the owners would preserve shape and volume of historic buildings, I would be in favor.” Daniel said.

 

Calling all Bids Back

Sagaponack village trustees also announced at their work session the bids they had received from contractors for work on the roof and vestibule at the new village hall have been rejected.

Louchheim announced at the meeting that the bids would be deemed defective because they did not comply with new procedures required by the state as of July 2008, which requires sealed bids for subcontractors.

“I checked with the village attorney,” Louchheim said, “and he confirmed that we needed sealed bids for subcontractors.”

The bids were opened on Friday, January 9, and as a result of the non-compliance with the New York State requirement, the village has informed all the bidders that they would need to resubmit the bids.

“There were no changes to the specifications of the bid, only to the filing of the bid and the paperwork that is required to file the bid,” village clerk Rhodi Winchell said.

Sagaponack tackles sign pollution, tree rot

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The fiscal crisis may not be affecting every member of every community, but that doesn’t mean that people are not being cautious with major decisions that could impact their personal finances.

Sagaponack resident and village zoning board of appeals member Cindy Greatrex said she is leaving the village for the West Coast to take a position with the company she has worked for as vice president and stakeholder for several years. Greatrex said that the only way not to take the transfer would be to resign her employment.

“In this uncertain economy, this would not be a wise move,” she said in her resignation letter.

At Monday’s board meeting, the trustees passed a resolution to accept the resignation of Greatrex and appointed Patrick Guarino to fill the unexpired five-year term — which will expire in July 2013.

Another resident moving out of the village is architectural review board member Don Sachar who is moving to North Haven. Sachar’s resignation was accepted and the board members appointed Barbara Slifka to fill the three-year term, which will expire in July 2011.

Deputy mayor Lee Foster said she regretfully accepted both resignations with gratitude. The board also appointed Elliot Meisel as chairperson to the zoning board for a term set to expire in July 2009.

Also at the Sagaponack Village board meeting on Monday, a resolution was passed allowing Mayor Don Louchheim to sign a license and indemnity agreement with David Seels allowing him to contract with the Barlett Tree company to care for diseased trees on public property. Sagaponack resident David Seels received permission from Southampton Town to plant 50 trees for his wife’s 50th birthday. Two of the trees on what is now village property have been discovered to have root rot. Fred Hoffman of Bartlett Trees attended the meeting and told the board about the problem.

“The trees get stressed from the heavy and wet soil, but that is not the only reason,” he said. “The fungicide we used has worked in the past and I will assess them in the spring.”

Hoffman said that he will have to do two more treatments for the trees next year. Hoffman said he would be happy to donate his time to look at all the trees in the village and assess them.

Also last week, at their monthly work session, the Sagaponack Village Board discussed the excessive bike path signs within the village. Village clerk Rhodi Winchell said at this week’s meeting that she contacted Tom Neely, director of transportation and traffic safety and a member of the Biking Citizens Advisory Committee of Southampton Town, to look at all the signage. Winchell said Neely was able to go out and look at all the signs, and the town is going to conduct a survey to reduce the sign pollution within the village. The signs, according to the board, were decided upon before the village was incorporated.

 

Planning Board Meeting

 

Following the regular village board meeting on Monday, the Sagaponack planning board members were thrown a curve ball when an applicant asked if there was the possibility of adding agricultural buildings on open space after a subdivision application had been given its final approval, which restricted agricultural buildings in that area.

At the public hearing, representative for the applicant of the property, Randall Weichbrodt, asked the planning board to consider the option of adding an additional agricultural building on the open space portion of the 17-acre parcel on Gibson Lane.

“Open space will remain open space, otherwise we wouldn’t have approved a negative declaration,” said planning board and village board of trustee member Al Kelman.

Although Weichbrodt asked the board to consider the option of an agricultural building on the reserve, the applicant, Jay Bialsky, said he had no problems with the board’s decision not to allow any agricultural buildings on the open space for this particular site.

The public hearing for the Gibson Lane parcel was adjourned until December 15.