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Aug 6, 2008 3:32 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Zoning code jitters in Sag Harbor

Aug 6, 2008 3:32 AM

The Sag Harbor Village Board held another public meeting to review proposed changes to the zoning code Monday evening, and while members were busy discussing specifics it became clear the village’s business community is fearful that increased restrictions and government control might adversely affect property values.

The proposed code changes were introduced in September as a way to maintain the historic character and diversity of Sag Harbor, but from the start, village business and property owners haven taken issue with limitations to size, location and use of real estate in the business district.

“You have devalued every property in the village,” Sag Harbor resident and real estate broker Jane Holden said at the meeting.

If the proposed code is adopted as is, new offices, including real estate firms, banks and similar non-retail uses will be prohibited in the business district. Instead, those businesses will be relegated to an outlying office district while the code promotes only new retail and restaurants along Main Street.

Responding to concerns from brokers and businesspeople, the board reiterated several times that the new rules apply only to new businesses and anything preexisting may continue on as a special exception use for as long as the same use remains, even if it changes ownership. Retail businesses can be created in the office district with a special exception permit, but not the other way around, Mayor Gregory Ferraris said. He reminded the public that Sag Harbor has had a zoning code for a long time and it was always meant to control development in the village.

“This hasn’t been a free-for-all,” the mayor said.

A detailed list of approved uses for each of Sag Harbor’s five districts is proposed and as long as a business is changing from one approved use to another, there will be an expedited approval process. The exception to that rule, according to the proposed code, is for businesses with interior spaces of more than 3,000 square feet.

Emporium Hardware fits into the 3,000-square-foot category and owner Frank D’Angelo noted, “To me, this is really the whole code.” He asked what criteria the Village Planning Board would use to decide if a tenant will be permitted to move into a building and the mayor explained that a change from one retail use to another is not an issue, even if the new store happens to be a “formula” or chain store, including Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel, for example.

Only a change of use that would significantly affect sewage or parking would require a more in-depth review. The proposed code will not study parking in the village because it would slow down the process, according to Mr. Ferraris, but he acknowledged that the board is still looking to eliminate the village parking fund, which amassed cash from developers to be used to create new parking around Sag Harbor. No new parking has been added to the village since the fund was created back in December 1981.

The local preservation group Save Sag Harbor has supported the proposed code from day one, but members continue to have concerns. On Monday, member and attorney Susan Meade said the biggest single issue brought to the group by the public is concern about formula-based retail and she does not believe the proposed code addresses it. Save Sag Harbor attorney Jeff Bragman asked that the code limit standardized signage for retail in much the same way fast food signs are curbed to protect village character. Mayor Ferraris assured him the code does exactly that.

Superstores are also not permitted in the proposed code and the definition is based on other municipalities with similar rules. The big box retailers are defined as being 10,000 square feet or more, according to Mr. Ferraris. “That wasn’t just taken out of thin air,” he said.

A new draft of the code will be made available soon, according to Mayor Ferraris, who also noted that an updated comprehensive plan, detailing the overall goals and vision for the future of Sag Harbor, should be ready for the public by the end of the week.

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