Proposed plans to demolish and redevelop the Sag Harbor Cottages on Route 114 just outside Sag Harbor Village will be up for public hearing in September, but that decision was not made before attorney Jon Tarbet questioned both the planning process in East Hampton and the motives of one planning board member during a meeting held last week.
Owner David Reiner hopes to demolish the aging motel once called the Barcelona Inn, and replace it with 12 individual cottages, an open pavilion, management office, pool with cabana lounge area, pool house and storage sheds on a nearly six-acre parcel in a residential portion of the town, surrounded largely by state and county preserves. The proposal will not require any variances from the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals and will set the motel back 300-feet from the road, with a landscape plan that attempts to shield view from the development from Route 114 with 1500 new trees and bushes proposed around the development.
On Wednesday, July 28, Tarbet, an attorney representing Reiner, approached the town planning board with a new landscape plan and narrative with the hopes of having the application deemed complete and ready for public hearing with the town’s own planning department agreeing that with the board’s permission there was sufficient information to move forward, as long as the project meets the water demands of the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department, which asked the project include public water in case of an emergency.
“Overall, I think this is a reasonable application and I support it,” said board member Reed Jones, adding the extensive landscaping plan was a plus.
Former board chair, and current board member Sylvia Overby, however, said she had continued concerns about the expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming use of the property, despite a determination by chief building inspector Thomas Preiato that stated the expansion of the use was within town code.
While now-deceased building inspector Don Sharkey had already determined the proposed use at the cottages were within the developers rights per town code, after his death the planning board asked Preiato, just weeks on the job, whether or not the cottages met the definition of a transient motel as they do not share common walls, but are proposed to share decking and fencing. In a November 2009 letter, Preiato said the structures did not meet the definition of a transient motel, but in a February 2009 letter he clarified his determination, stating they do in fact meet the intent of the town code and are legal.
“I would like to know from counsel how the building department can go from point A to point B, when in one minute they say it does not meet the definition of the code, but now it does,” said Overby, asking for town attorney Kathryn Santiago to research the matter.
“I don’t think any research is required,” replied Santiago, noting Preiato’s determination followed his own review of the case on more than one occasion and is in line with a previous building department determination.
“So the building inspector changed his mind,” countered Overby.
“I suppose so,” said Santiago. “He reviewed the material in its entirety and that is the determination he came up with.”
Board chairman Bob Schaeffer reminded Overby that because that determination was made more than 60 days ago, the board cannot contend it, to which Overby countered the board was not aware of the determination until July.
“How can anyone appeal it,” she asked.
Tarbet said it was not incumbent upon him, or the building inspector, to ensure the board was aware of the determination, noting there are many times a building inspector in the town has changed their minds on an interpretation of the code and that their determinations are always available when requested.
“When I told you he had made this determination eight weeks ago, you could have gone and spoken to him,” said Tarbet, adding later, “Anyone who has been in the planning process knows building inspectors change their minds.”
Overby said she has continually asked for a detailed narrative about the uses planned for the project, but has yet to receive it, to which Tarbet replied he has submitted three narratives over the course of the three year process.
“The problem, member Overby, is when you don’t like a project you refuse to let it be voted on, you try and keep it in process forever and that is not right,” said Tarbet. “The developer has a right to hear a yes or no. You don’t have to keep it in process forever.”
“I don’t want to keep it in process forever,” said Overby. “What I want to do is make sure it is the best project for that particular site.”
Schaeffer rebuffed Tarbet for the criticism, asking the focus be kept at that application at hand.
Looking at the narrative, Overby said plans call for a bathroom and shower, charging the detailed narrative she requested was not as comprehensive as she would like.
“I didn’t know I had to lay out what was already in the plans,” said Tarbet.
Overby added that with a sink, counters and storage space, the proposed lounge area looks like a bar.
“That’s illegal,” said Tarbet, charging Overby with brining up the possibility of illegal uses at the site when the current owner has operated it for five years without any problems.
Lastly, Overby said that the code restricted accessory buildings over 600 square feet, which Tarbet countered was allowed in a commercial use. After the meeting, at the request of Overby, the planning department agreed to explore the matter.
“I am trying to get as much information as I can,” said Overby after being chastised by Tarbet for questioning the use of a laundry service area. “In good planning you get as much information as you can.”
“I spent hours trying to figure out what else I can give you,” said Tarbet. “When I say it is being used for laundry service that is being descriptive. Should I tell you the color of the sheets, the kind of laundry detergent. It’s getting insane.”
“I think you are being adversarial tonight,” said Overby. “I think you have been adversarial through this whole process.”
Schaeffer reined in the discussion, after which board member Patrick Schutte said he felt the five to six feet high and six to eight feet high trees in the landscaping plan would not be enough to buffer the project from the road. He also asked for assurances that organized parties and catered events, outside the large family barbeque, not be allowed at the cottages.
“We are not trying to create a party venue,” said Reiner.
Tarbet agreed that 30 of 100 proposed white pines on the property would be planted as eight to ten foot trees to satisfy Schutte, and assured he would detail in another narrative that “Kettle-One” parties and the like were not intended for the property once it is developed, but rather family reunions and similar gatherings.
Schutte, Peter Van Scoyoc and Jones approved the application as complete and ready for public hearing, with Overby voting against the motion and Schaeffer declining a vote as the majority had already spoken. According to Tarbet, a public hearing is expected in six weeks time.