By Kathryn G. Menu
As a former member of the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees, Tiffany Scarlato was intimately involved with the revision of the village zoning code, which, in part, allowed gas stations to open convenience stores as an accessory use under fairly strict guidelines.
Armed with that knowledge, and as a neighbor of Harbor Heights Gas Station on Route 114, at Tuesday’s Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, Scarlato came out in opposition to a plan to expand the gas station by adding a 1,000 square-foot convenience store.
The Sag Harbor-based attorney charged that the property’s owner, John Leonard, has the ability to build a convenience store within the limits of the village code and questioned how the zoning board could grant variances to allow the project to move forward.
Scarlato was not alone. She was joined by Harbor Heights Gas Station neighbor Michael Butler, as well as Save Sag Harbor President Mia Grosjean, who both questioned the size and scale of Leonard’s plans.
The Harbor Heights expansion has been before the village planning board for several months. Leonard hopes to demolish the existing 1,874 square-foot gas station building and erect an 1,842 square-foot building that will include a 1,000 square-foot convenience store on a re-configured property.
The new building would be constructed perpendicular to Route 114, connecting to the service station a second business on the property, which Leonard also hopes to expand with a new bathroom and office.
The Harbor Heights gas pumps, which now sit next to Route 114, would be moved to the north side of the property and covered by a 20-foot high canopy, which would be lit with Dark Sky compliant lights. The gas station currently has four fueling pumps for regular gasoline and a diesel pump, but, under Leonard’s proposal, would have seven pumps for regular gasoline and one for diesel.
While the Harbor Heights property is currently open to the road with one large curb, Leonard’s attorney Dennis Downes said the New York State Department of Transportation has been working towards the approval of a much smaller curb cut with one entrance and one exit to the property.
Leonard has also proposed landscaping on all three side of the property in order to screen the station from neighboring property owners.
While the village planning board is in the midst of its review of the project, it needs six variances from the zoning board to ultimately be approved.
Leonard needs a variance to allow the new convenience store building to be constructed 15.6-feet from Hampton Street, where 50-feet is required by the village code and at a height of 25.5 feet, where 20 feet would normally be allowed.
He also needs a variance to allow the construction of the fueling station island 23-feet from Hampton Street where 50-feet is required by code, and to build a 20-foot canopy, which would be five feet over what code allows.
According to Leonard’s engineer, Chris Tartaglia of Highpoint Engineering, the building would be constructed in the same location as the existing building, and the height would allow it to resemble a residence. The height of the canopy, he added, is to allow fuel tankers access to the pumps.
Turning the building so the short side of the structure faces Hampton Street is an attempt to reduce the visual massing of the building, Tartaglia said.
He added that Leonard has proposed 13 parking spaces behind the buildings, which will not be visible from the street, and said he is flanking the entire perimeter with “dense landscaping.”
Board member Michael Bromberg wondered why the new building was not being pushed to the back of the property, where it would conform to the village code.
Tartaglia said it was possible to build the structure off the back of the Sag Harbor Service Station, but that it would not be as visually pleasing, with the fuel pumps and service station becoming the focus of the property from Hampton Street.
Tartaglia said that if Leonard kept four fueling stations it would not be economically viable, with Downes noting that cars are often lined up in the road waiting to get gas, creating a hazard.
“I do use the gas station and I got to tell you it scares the hell out of me and the people in the village too,” said board member Brendan Skislock.
At Bromberg’s questioning, Downes said the gas station’s current hours of operation, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the off-season and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the summer, would not change once the convenience store opened, and that restriction could be written into planning board approval.
Another variance Leonard needs is to build a 1,000 square-foot convenience store, where the code only allows a 600 square-foot convenience store.
According to Tartaglia, in order to be competitive, Leonard needs the square footage to offer similar goods found at places like 7-Eleven.
Leonard needs two variances for landscape coverage. Tartaglia said the proposed landscape plan was the maximum the property could hold.
Lastly, Leonard needs a variance for the expansion of the service station, which is considered a pre-existing, non-conforming use.
But Scarlato questioned why Leonard could not simply adhere to the code requirements, which she said would still allow for a convenience store on the property.
“There is no reason why the applicant could not put the building on another part of the property,” she said.
Bromberg suggested the board require Leonard to show what he could build as of right on the property.
Butler, whose Eastville Avenue home is adjacent to the gas station, said he “did not relish the idea of looking out my windows and seeing a canopy with lights.”
Butler asked the zoning board to make Leonard adhere to landscaping requirements in the code, adding he was concerned about the overall aspect of “suburban sprawl” the project could create.
Leonard countered he was doing everything in his power to create a residential feel on the property and that his landscaping plan includes planting 16-foot tall trees around the border of the property.
“We are trying to do the right thing,” he said.
Grosjean, representing herself and also Save Sag Harbor, said she was concerned about any project that goes outside the limitations of the zoning code which was created to protect residents of the village.
The Harbor Heights application will continue its review in front of the planning board on Tuesday, May 24 at 5:30 p.m.