Tag Archive | "zoning"

ZBA Says It Will Approve Sotheby’s Office

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The space on Main Street formerly occupied by the Sag Harbor Express. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

The space on Main Street formerly occupied by the Sag Harbor Express. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

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.

Opportunity Lost

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What makes Sag Harbor special? Why, with all the tony resort towns that surround us is our Main Street bustling at 9 p.m. on a warm, summer evening when many village’s around us have seemingly turned in for the night?

While as a community we have been asking this question for over a year now, we asked it knowing the answer. Sag Harbor is unique in the characters that make it – from the mom-and-pop business owners that line our Main Street with their stores, to the cast of characters along our waterfront, to the members of the community who always have something to say and a new group to form.

We have been trying to preserve this uniqueness for some time now, as the fear of interlopers in the form of big, bad box stores and sameness has crept into our worst of nightmares. Could Sag Harbor only have the luxury boutiques of Madison Avenue to turn to in times of shopping need? Could we be without a hardware store, a variety store where one can still buy a spool of thread?

And so we organized, across the board, in a number of ways and waited for what traditionally has been one of the greatest tools of municipality to combat the fear of sameness on our Main Streets – a new zoning code.

But once it was unveiled? Nothing. Despite general proclamations of support and general proclamations of concern, although none very specific, not a single question or comment has been filed with Sag Harbor officials about this new code.

 At the last meeting on the draft code, village officials, in a 15-minute discussion, practically begged for public comment, and a legal advertisement was even taken out to that effect. Stressing time and time again this is a document that has the ability to evolve, trustees in the village have sought to hear their resident’s ideas, but for whatever reason their request has fallen on deaf ears.

Now is the time to be a part of this process, which we do believe is well intentioned at its heart. The next meeting on the code is scheduled for Thursday, June 5 at 6:30 p.m. We hope before then at least one of the many people we know make our community worth preserving steps up with their ideas.




Price of Popularity

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We wanted to follow up on last week’s discussion about the future of Sag Harbor. We note here that this week the Village of Sag Harbor is about to begin rolling out its much-anticipated revision to the zoning code. This is, we hear, an expansive rewriting of the volume that dictates much of what the village looks like and how real estate in the commercial district is used. It will, say its authors, go a long way to addressing some of the development pressures facing the village. The thought here is that chain drug stores, high end clothing stores and other businesses that may change forever the streetscape of the village may already be planning to storm our gates.

While this may be true — and frankly, we believe it to be — what needs to be addressed if we choose to try to direct the village’s future goes well beyond Sag Harbor’s Main Street.

The Trust, perhaps used to working with communities that don’t enjoy the same prosperity as we do, seemed to focus more on what types of economic development programs could be instituted here. Sag Harbor, ironically, is suffering instead from its own popularity; but what is resulting from that is a kind of divided economy, and more importantly — and what the Trust and its kind can probably not help out with — a divided residential population. Each of these groups has its own set of goals, and expectations — and unfortunately, they are mutually exclusive.

As discussions continue about the direction Main Street does take, we hope that they will include ways to keep Main Street a place of commerce for those who need to shop here, rather than only those who choose to shop here. There needs to be attention paid to keeping an economy that is not only robust, but affordable to that segment of the community that struggles to make ends meet; who even now finds itself traveling out of town because the prices here have gotten too high to manage.

While we work to keep Main Street beautiful and vibrant, it is easy to forget those who don’t always have the wherewithal to enjoy the village’s newfound popularity.


Unfulfilled Expectations

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For those of us who have been following the saga surrounding the future of our Main Street and the viability of our unique mom-and-pop business community, this week’s forum with the National Historic Trust’s Main Street Program was a highly anticipated event. Unfortunately it hardly lived up to the expectations many of us in Sag Harbor had, and provided very little in the way of tangible concepts or tools for what has emerged as an issue seemingly everyone is ready to tackle.

 Tuesday night’s forum principally felt like a sales pitch by the National Historic Trust. More time was spent discussing the history of this organization and tools used in other communities – and even those tools were quite abstract – rather than Sag Harbor’s specific concerns or dilemmas. Precise questions were asked, and not truly answered with anything solid.

We wanted concrete ideas – and ideas at the very least slightly tailored to our village. By the end of the forum, it was clear very little in the way of research had been done about the specific climate and threats our village is facing, which is both a shame and an opportunity lost.

Ultimately, if marketing, festivals, organization and a shop-locally campaign is what is needed to save our Main Street, we do not believe we need the National Trust to fulfill these goals. We have a community – a feisty group at that – that has shown immense passion to keep this place special and is willing to fight to that end. The solutions we need are not making our facades prettier or mounting a winter festival; but how members of a business community with frequently different goals and agendas — at times at cross purposes — and how an increasingly divergent residential community — which is also frequently at odds with the business community — can find common ground and consensus. And how to solve problems that are even more complex, like managing growth in a small town that has become threatened by its own popularity.

Save Sag Harbor, the not-for-profit who organized this event, did their due diligence in exploring this option and bringing the National Trust to Sag Harbor through their own financing. We still commend them for this effort, and must note the bright spot during the meeting was we all began talking about our concerns together in what felt like the first community-wide meeting in quite some time.

We would advocate Save Sag Harbor take this beginning step towards creating dialogue between all factions of the community – some quite opposed to the ideas of the others – and set up a series of community forums on this issue so we may keep the conversation going.