By Stephen J. Kotz
Despite some pushback from a pair of environmental consultants who represent clients before municipal boards, the Sag Harbor Village Board on Tuesday adopted a new chapter to its code aimed at protecting wetlands and better controlling applications for development near them.
“Sag Harbor has been found. I think we’ve all seen that the face of Sag Harbor is changing,” said the village’s environmental consultant, Richard Warren, who worked on the code revision with the village’s attorneys, Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Denise Schoen. “The village has to make sure the regulations are up to the task.”
“This was a hard process for the three of us to put this together,” he continued. “I think you have a good code before you. I hope the public would agree and I’d hope the board would adopt this.”
The village launched a review of its wetlands law last year after members of the Harbor Committee, who oversee most applications related to it, complained that the existing code did not contain clear guidelines and that wetlands applications were often haphazardly bounced between the Harbor Committee and the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The new law shifts authority over wetlands variances to the Harbor Committee and adds specific setback requirement to the village code, while also shifting the burden to applicants to propose plans would minimize impacts on the environment.
Bruce Anderson of Suffolk Environmental, a consulting firm, said he was concerned the law would “discriminate against the smaller properties.”
“The majority of waterfront lots can’t meet the standards that are proposed in this law today,” he said. “They cannot make their lots any bigger, so it puts them in a bind. When we design a standard that can’t be met, we are automatically making these properties nonconforming.”
Doing that, he added, “will raise a level of conflict in this village that I don’t think anyone wants.”
Former Mayor Pierce Hance disagreed, saying that too often people try to shoehorn in too large a house for the size lot they have purchased. He described the process as similar to someone trying to fit a 10-pound melon into a 5-pound bag.
Urging the board to stand firm, he said “It’s not the obligation of this village to write the code to accommodate whatever anyone wants,” and before someone plans to build a “McMansion” and swimming pool, “they should know what they buy.”
Melissa Dedovich of Peconic Environmental Associates suggested the new law should contain an administrative review for minor projects that do not rise to the level of a full hearing and remove docks from the law’s purview, saying the Southampton Town Trustees, who also review dock applications, “are very vigilant.”
Despite the concerns, the board adopted the amended code chapter as is by a 5-0 vote.
Save Sag Harbor Petition
Members of the civic organization Save Sag Harbor, who have been collecting signatures on a petition urging the village board to rein in development submitted their work along with a 7-step call to action.
Randy Croxton, a member of the organization’s board, appeared shortly after Carol Olejnik and Holly Buchanan, two Main Street residents, complained about a house in between their properties at 295 Main Street that was ostensibly a renovation but had morphed into a near complete teardown and rebuild. Both the village ZBA and the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review have approved the work.
Village building inspector Thomas Preiato had issued a stop-work order in the winter, but the ZBA lifted it after a hearing last month.
Mayor Brian Gilbride said he had visited Ms. Olejnik’s property and agreed “she is 100-percent correct.” He added that the project had clearly fallen between the cracks. Mr. Thiele offered to review the file to determine what had gone wrong.
“I did not pay these two women,” Mr. Croxton quipped as he told the board that nearly 1,000 people had signed Save Sag Harbor’s online petition, with another 320 adding written comments, all urging the village to save itself before it is too late. He added that 76 percent of the people signing the petition were from Sag Harbor or the immediately surrounding area and that many of them were third or fourth generation residents.
The organization has called on the village to pass a resolution vowing to uphold the zoning code’s promise to protect the village’s historic character. It urges the a historic preservation consultant to help guide development in the historic district and step up its enforcement efforts. It has also urged the village to undertake an inventory of historic structures, amend the zoning code to restrict the movement of houses on lots and require applicants to provide elevation drawings that show how their projects compare to their neighbors’. Finally, it calls on the village to adopt a mechanism to allow the ZBA, the ARB, and other boards to exchange comments so one does not approve plans another would reject.
Mr. Croxton suggested that that lack of communication was what led to the problems at 295 Main Street. “That lack of communication, that lack of continuity, that has to be addressed specifically so that the board adjust their agenda to coordinate and have broadest review possible,” he said.
Board members said help was on the way and had started with the adoption of the wetland law. Mr. Thiele said he was working on a gross floor area law, which has gained favor in other municipalities, and focuses on limiting the size of a house to a percentage of the size of its lot to limit the placement of oversized houses on small properties.