By Marissa Maier and Bryan Boyhan
Developers for the planned condominium complex on Ferry Road adjacent to the bridge in Sag Harbor have proposed what they hope will be a plan that will satisfy local boards who have been skeptical and critical of previous incarnations.
At the same time, a local organization has commissioned a title survey for the property, the results of which challenge the developer’s ability to build as large a project as proposed.
Mark D’Andrea, project manager for developer Michael Maidan’s East End Ventures delivered to the village this week a design he said addresses most, if not all, the concerns the village’s boards and the community have about the project.
It is, he said, smaller and offers a less intensive use of the property.
“We could, by right, have 40 units there,” claimed D’Andrea last week. Instead, the current plan is for 18 units, the same number as proposed last year, but still fewer than the 22 when the project was first pitched two years ago.
The most recent plan also features a new architect, Kathryn Fee of Bridgehampton.
Fee proposes to break the development up into five separate buildings. There will be small streets around the buildings to create the feeling of a “village within a village.”
Â Â Â ”The concept is to break down the massive feeling, and create more of a townhouse faÃ§ade,” said Fee. In earlier proposals, the development was housed in one large brick building. Fee said separating the units into townhouse buildings was more consistent with the architectural character of the village.
Â Â Â With the new design, four buildings will have three units and will surround a center building, containing six units. Each of these buildings will use different colored brick material to make the buildings look like “they had evolved over time.” Every unit will have a balcony. Fee also designed gardens on two rooftops.
Â Â Â In addition to the rooftop gardens, Fee incorporated several eco-friendly building features into the design of the project. Insulated concrete form will be used for the buildings, which lessens the amount of energy needed to heat and cool the units. Fee also integrated the use of efficient gas boilers, which are activated only when a person is occupying the unit.
Â Â Â Overall these green building designs will increase the price of development by almost seven percent, said Fee. She added that this percentage will probably translate to a few hundred thousands dollars.
Â Â Â Fee hopes the project will receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, and believes this certification will make the project more agreeable to the village. Fee’s design concept was already presented to the village’s Historical Preservation and Architectural Review board last fall. During these meetings, Fee said her designs received favorable feedback from the board.
But ownership of an abandoned road may stand in the way of the project moving forward.
At issue is a parcel of land once used as an approach to the first bridge that crossed between Sag Harbor and North Haven. In the late 1800s, the Long Island Rail Road acquired, through condemnation, much of the property that East End Ventures hopes to develop. The LIRR in the early part of the last century granted an easement on that property to the village for a road that led to that bridge, which was several hundred feet further to the west than the current bridge.
The bridge was eventually moved in the 1930s, and the access road abandoned. In the ensuing years the land owned by the railroad was sold to a succession of owners, including former Sag Harbor mayor James McMahon, members of the Remkus family, and members of the Diner family, all who used the property —Â including the road bed —Â to some degree.
But whether the road bed itself was actually transferred from the rail road company to any of the successive owners remains a question.
“The subject had come up in several public meetings,” said Save Sag Harbor member April Gornik, “and we felt we wanted to spend the money to find out ourselves.”
The proposal as designed would need the 15-feet to the center line of that road —Â which East End Ventures claims it owns — in order to meet set back requirements.
The group hired attorney Marcia Finkelstein of Lamb & Barnosky, who in turn commissioned First American Title Insurance Company of New York to do a title search on the property.
Their findings indicate that none of the successive transfers of title, from the time the rail road owned the property, included the road bed. A description of the transferred property, in metes and bounds, seems to specifically exclude the road bed, and in fact uses its southern edge to create a border for the old rail road property. Maps indicate the land on the northern side of the road bed belong to Sag Harbor Village, and on one map provided with the search, the piece of road is simply listed as former state road 114. It does not even include a tax map number, the report says.
“East End Ventures does not own it,” said Finkelstein in an interview this week.
But Dennis Downes, attorney for East End Ventures —Â and for the Diner family —Â disagrees.
“The rail road property included everything to the center line,” Downes maintained in an interview this week, and contrary to the title search commissioned by Save Sag Harbor, says that when the rail road sold the property to McMahon, the southerly side of the road bed went with it.
In April, on behalf of East End Ventures, Downes filed an action for adverse possession of the narrow strip of property, and he argues that all of the previous owners back to McMahon regularly made use of the abandoned road bed, ultimately giving them the rights to it.
But claiming land through adverse possession is tough, especially when it involves a government entity.
“You can’t claim public land through adverse possession,” said village attorney Fred Thiele, adding the piece, whether owned by the LIRR or the state, would still be government property. The LIRR, he said, was under the Metropolitan Transit Authority, a state agency.
Downes disagreed, saying “it wouldn’t be the first time” governmental land was annexed via adverse possession.
“That will be for the court to decide,” he said.
“Clearly the road bed was for a public benefit,” continued Thiele, and argued that, if the LIRR or state were to give up the property, it would more likely go to another public agency, such as the village which owns the adjoining land.
But an argument over ownership would not necessarily derail the project, said Thiele. As long as the developers have an insured title to the property, the application for developing the property can go through the process.
“Obviously, though,” said Thiele, “if we have other information that put a cloud over this, we wouldn’t ignore it.”