By Stephen J. Kotz
The former G.F. Schiavoni Plumbing warehouse on Jermain Avenue, which has been vacant for several years, has most recently served as a tableau for graffitti artists who have painted it with a giant pink whale, the word FREEDUM and a number of tags.
But now, its new owners, 64 Jermain LLC, want to convert the two-story brick and concrete former factory building into four condominiums.
The most basic of plans were unveiled before the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday, which has been asked to consider changing the use of the property from warehouse/office to condominums, where both would be considered nonconforming in the neighborhood, which is zoned for half-acre residential lots.
The plans showed the existing building being used for the condominums, although no floor plans or elevations were provided. Each unit would have its own deck and pool. Most of the property, about four acres to the rear, which is largely wetlands, would be preserved, with the development rights being transferred to Suffolk County, according to attorney Dennis Downes, who represented the applicants.
According to the application filed with the village building department, 64 Jermain LLC, has a mailing address at 102 Franklin Street in New York City. David Siolverstein and Markus Dochantschi signed paperwork, idenfitying themselves as “members” of the limited liability corporation.
Although Mr. Downes told the board it was merely being asked to consider the change in use, the board’s attorney, Denise Schoen had other ideas. She said if the ZBA ruled on the application, it would be considered “segmentation” under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, which is prohibited, “because we haven’t done a full environmental review.” Segmentation occurs when a reviewing board does not look at the total scope of a project during the environmental review process.
She said the application should first be reviewed by the planning board, which would weigh in on the site plan before deciding whether or not to refer it to the ZBA for the use change application.
But Mr. Downes, referring to recent staff changes in the building department, said he had been told by “three building inspectors over six months” that the first step would be to come before the ZBA first.
Ms. Schoen also questioned whether the existing use, as a warehouse and office, had been abandoned by the Schiavonis after they moved their plumbing business out, although Mr. Downes argued that courts had ruled that a use could not be considered abandoned if a property were on the market. If the use were to be abandoned, the property would revert to the half-acre, single-family residential zoning like the rest of the surrounding area.
Before tabling the application, which the board’s environmental consultant, Richard Warren, said would have to be subjected to another public notice, the board opened the matter for public comment.
“Condominiums in the existing building sounds very appealing,” said Anita Guarino, a resident of Joels Lane. “Condominiums with four pools not so much.” She said her major concern was that the wetlands would be protected and that neighbors would be kept informed of the progress of the application.
Paul Babcock, the owner of Cappy Amundsen’s former studio at the corner of Madison Street and Jermain Avenue, was also before the board, seeking a change of use that would allow him to rent a portion of the ground floor of his building to an antique shop or as an office.
His attorney, Mr. Downes, said, that in the 1990s, the ZBA allowed the building, a former neighborhood store, to be converted into three apartments and a studio space for an artist. Various tenants have tried to make a go of it, to no avail, the attorney said. Mr. Babcock was cited by village code enforcement because the previous tenant sold antiques from the space, Mr. Downes said.
Board member Tim McGuire questioned whether the ZBA should allow a retail use. “Do we want to legalize and introduce a business in the middle of a residential area?” he asked.
Fellow board member Scott Baker, who said he lives nearby, said that Sag Harbor, indeed, had a history of small stores, scattered throughout its neighborhoods, but questioned if allowing changes would create a parking problem.
The board tabled the matter, pending receipt of a scaled floor plan, showing the 508-square-foot area, Mr. Downes said, would be used for a store or office.
In a straw vote, over the objection of member Brendan Skislock, the board said it would not be inclined to grant at least two of five variances requested by Steven Barr to build an addition to his house at 43 Howard Street.
One of the variances turned down would have allowed 23.7-percent building coverage, where the code allows 20 percent, and the other would have sought total coverage of 32 percent, where the code allows 25 percent.
Mr. Baker, who is Mr. Barr’s architect, recused himself from the review. “Fundamentally, the project is too large,” said Neil Slevin, the board’s alternate, who sat in for Mr. Baker.
“This is a very large additon to the historic house,” said Mr. McGuire. “I think it needs a redesign.”
Chairman Anton Hagen said he regretted that the hearing was closed the same night it was opened, on November 25, because it did not allow an opportunity for the project to be scaled back.
At that hearing, Mia Grosjean, who lives next door, and two other neighbors, objected to the size of the addition. Although Mr. Barr reached an accomodation with the other two neighbors, Ms. Grosjean continued her opposition.
Although she was not present at Tuesday’s meeting, she tried to listen in, via the cell phone of Jayne Young of Save Sag Harbor who had her on speaker phone. Twice, Ms. Grosjean’s voice interupted the proceedings when she said she could not hear what was going on, causing Mr. Hagen to ask for silence.
After the board took its vote, Mr. Downes questioned members whether Ms. Grosjean had discussed the application with them after the hearing. Mr. Hagen said she had spoken to him, to ask if there was a possibility that the deadline for comment could be extended beyound December 1 but had not discussed specifics of the case or tried to sway his vote.