By Stephen J. Kotz
The Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals, in a straw vote on Tuesday, August 19, said it would approve the application of Sotheby’s International Realty to lease the former offices of The Sag Harbor Express at 35 Main Street.
In contrast to a hearing last month, at which several opponents spoke out against the plan, including two other local real estate brokers, and where the board left some doubt as to where it stood on the matter, Tuesday’s discussion was brief and to the point. Board members Tim McGuire, Scott Baker, and Jennifer Ponzini said they were in favor of approving the change of use request, with chairman Anton Hagen ultimately saying he would vote against it.
Board member Brendan Skislock, who was the most supportive of the request at a July 21 hearing, was absent, prompting Dennis Downes, the attorney representing Sotheby’s, to first request a month adjournment before changing his mind after hearing a majority of the board express support for the application.
“I’m conflicted on this,” admitted Mr. Hagen, who said there has been a concern about “the proliferation of real estate offices on Main Street.” He said he does not want to see “another wall of photographs of properties on Main Street. I don’t think that’s desirable.”
But he also expressed concern about the alternative. ”We don’t want a store that closes for six months a year, that could be worse,” he said.
But when polled by assistant village attorney Denise Schoen, Mr. Hagen said he would vote against the application.
“I don’t think it’s for this board to decide what kind of business” the space can be occupied by, said Mr. McGuire.
The application drew controversy when it was heard last month, with opponents saying they did not want to see another real estate office open on Main Street and arguing that in a 2009 code change that froze the number of office spaces on Main Street, the village board had agreed with their position.
But Mr. Downes, Ms. Schoen, and Richard Warren, the village’s planning consultant, told the ZBA the village board had expressly protected the rights of property owners with office uses by guaranteeing their right to switch from one type of an office to another when it adopted the code change. Former Mayor Greg Ferraris, who was in office at the time of the code change, submitted a letter to the file that said that was, in fact, the board’s intent.
But their opinions did not sit well with a number of speakers at last month’s hearing, including Scott Strough and Simon Harrison, real estate brokers who already have offices on Main Street or nearby. They argued that the village board had expressly sought to limit the number of real estate offices in the shopping district, with Mr. Strough going so far as to say he had a pay a premium to rent his own space.
“Obviously they don’t want any more real estate offices in town because it is more competition,” said Mr. Downes.
The board will issue a formal determination on the application at its September 23 meeting.
The Express moved to second floor offices in the rear of its building, which have an entrance at 22 Division Street, in the spring.