Tag Archive | "wetlands"

Sag Harbor Adopts New Wetlands Law

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Sag Municipal Building

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.

Harbor Committee

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By Stephen J. Kotz

Bruce Tait, the chairman of the Sag Harbor Harbor Committee, his arm in a brace from a recent work accident, was in a feisty mood on Monday.

Citing a growing workload and an increase in applications in areas close to fragile wetlands and bluffs, Mr. Tait called on the Sag Harbor Village Board to revisit its wetlands law and put an end to the confusion that he said his committee and the Zoning Board of Appeals have in enforcing it.

“I’m very close to making a recommendation to the trustees that we have a moratorium on wetlands permits until this conflict is resolved,” Mr. Tait said, shortly after announcing at the top of the meeting that he wanted to dispense with the regular agenda until his board had an opportunity to discuss his concerns.

The committee agreed, passing unanimously a resolution asking the village board to act. Because the turnaround time could be slow, Mr. Tait said he was prepared to ask his committee to request a moratorium when it meets next month.

“The right way to go is a moratorium so everyone is on the right page,” he said.

Denise Schoen, the committee’s attorney, agreed that the wetlands law needs to be revisited.

“We should make sure the ZBA gets input from the Harbor Committee before it grants any wetlands variances,” she said. In some cases, the ZBA has acted unilaterally, she said, because it “did not want to hold up an applicant.”

She added that perhaps any applications requiring a wetlands permit should be the sole purview of the Harbor Committee.

“I don’t know that we need two layers of review,” she said. “But if we are going to keep it that way, the zoning board needs to get on the same page as the harbor committee.”

“There is a whole bunch of stuff that needs to be firmed up, that doesn’t read smoothly, doesn’t set up a procedure,” she said of the current wetlands law. “If we repealed the whole thing and started fresh, we might get a better product.”

Anton Hagen, the chairman of the ZBA, said he would welcome a meeting of the minds. “There clearly is a need to define a procedure,” he said.

There are times, he said, when the ZBA is asked to act on an application that has already been before the harbor committee, but the ZBA will not know how the harbor committee responded because it has not received a written report.

“Sometimes attorneys for the applicants will tell us that the harbor committee signed off on something and we have no way of really knowing if that is true or not,” he said.

Mr. Tait said ever since the zoning code was revised five years ago, and the Harbor Committee tasked with weighing in on wetlands applications that also go before the ZBA, confusion has reigned. In some cases, he said, the ZBA has approved wetland setback variances before the harbor committee gets an opportunity to weigh in. At other times, the harbor committee’s permit conditions are ignored by applicants, he said. And he groused that the village does not pursue violators.

“We have no enforcement side to the code,” Mr. Tait said. “We have been told flat out that there is nobody who is enforcing it.”

If the village would not enforce its code, he said, the harbor committee would take matters into its own hands.

“I want to have an agenda item, at the start of every meeting, a discussion item when we have in front of us wetland applications that have been in front of us before that have violations of the permit we have granted them,” Mr. Tait added.

“I’m looking at Google Earth and I’m seeing it right there in real time applications that we have approved that are being ignored in terms of buffers,” he said. “There’s no code enforcement, absolutely no code enforcement.”

Committee member Jeff Peters volunteered to visit properties that have had applications before the committee.

“We have to start somewhere. Why not start today?” he said.

Committee member Stephen Clarke said many applicants know they have a constrained lot and try to push the committee to approve more than it should. If the ZBA acts without harbor committee input, “our hands are tied,” he said. “I don’t want to sit here and make a decision on something for which a variance has already been granted.”

“What we are seeing now is an influx of very aggressive applications with lots of accessory structures and more and more pressure to move faster and faster,” said Mr. Tait. “I’m not opposed to making the process more efficient, but we have to be careful.”

The mood carried over to the meeting’s main agenda. In reviewing a decision it approved last month, allowing Herbert Sambol to expand a 970-square-foot one-story cottage at 22 Cove Road into a 2,585-square-foot two-story house, Mr. Tait said it was an example of the problems facing the board.

“This was a particularly difficult application to come to us because of the preexisting variances” that were approved by the ZBA, he said. The committee’s approval carried with it 17 conditions.

“This is an application that we are going to look at very, very carefully and see that they are followed,” he said.

Mr. Peters who abstained last month, voted no on Monday, arguing that a plan to replant the bluff in front of the house was doomed to failure because of ongoing erosion. He said the bluff should be terraced instead.

The committee balked at making referrals on two other properties. In the first case, Marius Fortelni sought permission to quadruple the size of a one-story 1,218-square-foot house by building in its place a 2,914-square-foot, two-story house at 14 Bluff Point Road. But the board said it should be scaled back because there was no compelling reason given as to why the applicant could not build a smaller house farther from the cove.



Protecting Natural Resources

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If adopted by the Sag Harbor Board of Trustee’s the newly proposed zoning code will give the village’s harbor committee teeth it has never had before when it comes to the protection of natural resources like wetlands, tidal waters, beaches, vegetation, dunes and bluffs.

During a harbor committee meeting on Monday, July 14, village environmental consultant Richard Warren walked the board through a synopsis of some of the bigger changes proposed in the new code. While concerns in village hall over the last three months have focused on the effect of the code on Main Street, harbor committee chairman Bruce Tait’s concerns lie solely with the waterfront, which his board is charged with protecting.

Warren explained that the waterfront and marine districts had been merged, and at this point just a few properties have been moved in and out of the waterfront district, including a small parcel next to Bruce Davis’s house that currently belongs to Christie Brinkley. He added the reason the parcel was taken out of the waterfront district and placed into the office district was its small size, which made more sense for office rather than waterfront development.

One personal suggestion Tait made about the code, which Warren seemed to agree with, was differentiating between a boat dealer and a yacht brokerage, which Tait noted are far different uses. Warren seemed amenable to allowing a yacht brokerage as a permitted use in the office district, while keeping a boat dealer in a special exception category, which requires a permit.

“I have been watching this and paying attention,” said Tait of the code process. “I think the evolution has been a good example of public input … my position as I have been watching this is I did not want to see drastic shrinkage of the waterfront.”

Tait agreed that was not what was occurring.

Sag Harbor resident Cam Gleason wondered if Haven’s Beach should be kept in a residential area of the village, for fear a developer could snatch it up should the village ever sell the parkland.

“My guess is there would be about 1,500 more of you if someone tried to sell that,” said Warren. “They would have the tar pot boiling.”

Gleason also asked about the effect of the code on 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road — a proposed condo development on the waterfront next to the Graphic Arts Building on Long Island Avenue. Warren explained the parcel is proposed to be in the office district, which does have size and density limits.

Warren also noted it is a new chapter of the code, expected to be discussed at the August 11 meeting, which will truly expand the powers of the committee in its role as steward of natural resources. While the board has yet to comment on this chapter as they are currently reviewing it, the section outlines acceptable development and activities around wetlands, tidal waters, beaches, vegetation, dunes and bluffs.

Under the code, harbor committee approval will be required to fill near or in any wetlands, water or beach. Harbor committee approval is needed to clear or dredge, to construct homes, docks, accessory structures or bulkheads, or to have any septic systems, waste or storage system within 200-feet of wetlands, water or beach. No buildings or structures are allowed within 100-feet of a crest of a bluff.

Until this new code, the committee has been able to ask that a wetlands buffer of a minimum 25-feet be maintained, although generally they have allowed 25-feet to be the standard. In the proposed code, wetlands setbacks have been beefed up significantly. Any wastewater disposal system needs to have a 100-foot setback and the construction of all other structures would need a 75-foot setback. Lawns, turf and landscaping, as well as clearing or fertilization of vegetation must take place 50-feet from wetland areas.

Parcels in the waterfront district, or marinas do not have to comply with the setbacks as long as they have obtained site plan approval. 

 Above: Harbor committee member George Pharaoh, chairman Bruce Tait and member Jeff Peters concentrate on Sag Harbor’s new natural resources code. (k menu photo)