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Nov 18, 2008 3:16 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor Cinema owner fights landmark designation

Nov 18, 2008 3:16 PM

The owner of the Sag Harbor Cinema is fighting to keep his famous neon sign from being turned into an official village landmark.

The Sag Harbor Village Board held a public hearing on the proposed landmark designation on November 12, and the cinema’s owner, Gerald Mallow, suggested that landmark status could hurt the value of his property, which he put up for sale in August. Mr. Mallow’s attorney, Diane Leveriere, complained that her client was not notified of the pending designation and urged the board to adjourn the hearing until a later date.

Ms. Leveriere said Mr. Mallow was not given enough time to prepare arguments against the designation, adding that if the board voted to make the iconic neon sign a permanent landmark that evening, its ruling would be “would be null and void.”

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who is also the village attorney, said sufficient notice had been given, according to the code. Answering Mr. Mallow’s concerns that his property value would be adversely impacted by the designation, Mr. Thiele pointed out that the cinema facade is already protected because the building is in the Sag Harbor Historic District. He said naming the sign a landmark would not change the standards that are already in place and could actually make it easier for Mr. Mallow to get variances.

The Village Architectural Review Board recommended the cinema’s facade for landmark status in September, and Mr. Mallow accused that board’s chairman, Cee Scott Brown of making the recommendation for some kind of personal gain, though he’s unsure what, exactly.

“I have to find out what Brown is up to,” Mr. Mallow said in a phone interview last week.

Mr. Brown is a real estate agent at the Corcoran Group, which holds the listing for the theater, but he categorically denies having any financial interest in a potential sale. “My wallet is not going to be affected by the sale,” Mr. Brown said on Tuesday.

This is not the first time Mr. Mallow’s “Sag Harbor” sign has been embroiled in controversy.

The cinema owner tried to replace the sign back in May 2004, but the community fought him on it and raised $20,000 to create and install an exact replica of the Art Deco original. Mr. Brown maintains that Mr. Mallow never had permission from the ARB to remove the sign in the first place, but the cinema owner said he had a building permit and was within his rights as a property owner.

“The sign incident was a very bad time for me,” Mr. Mallow told the board, explaining that he lost money on the first replacement sign, which was scrapped, leaving him with no sign for about a year and a half, while the community activists had the replica made. The leader of the sign activists, Brenda Seimer, said she had started a new organization, “Save the Sign” to make sure the village icon remains and possibly look into having the theater turned into a community center of some kind. “The whole thing can be a fabulous project,” Ms. Seimer said.

“The community of Sag Harbor has been preserved and saved by people like me,” Mr. Mallow said last week, noting that he loves the village, but deserves some freedom to do what we wants with his building.

Since Mr. Mallow expressed his displeasure with the landmark designation, the village has asked that the ARB resubmit its recommendation and clarify that only the sign is up for landmark status, not the entire building.

In other news, the Village Board approved a six-month extension to a commercial moratorium on site-plan reviews and change-of-use applications in the business district. The moratorium has been in place since June 2007 to protect the village while it works on a major code revision. The current three-month extension expires on December 8.

Trustee Tiffany Scarlato said the proposed new village zoning code is complete and the board is moving quickly to prepare for an environmental review. “Certainly by the end of the 180 days, we’ll have that completed and adopted,” she said.

The community preservation group Save Sag Harbor continues to ask that additional provisions prohibiting formula stores be put in the new code, while the Chamber of Commerce and the Sag Harbor Business Association argue that the proposed code will hurt local businesses and property owners.

The board also passed a new law that will eliminate Sag Harbor Village as a separate assessing unit from Southampton Town. Village taxpayers have been forced to attend meetings for both town and village assessments, and the new law will eliminate confusion and redundancy, according to Trustee Ed Deyermond, who is also the Southampton Town Tax Assessor.

Sag Harbor residents who live in the Town of East Hampton will not be affected by the change.

Despite the difficult economic times, Mayor Gregory Ferraris said Sag Harbor has a number of capital projects that need to be addressed. He said the Old Burying Ground on Madison Street has been derelict for years, but the necessary repairs were last bid at about $250,000. “It’s going to have to get done,” Mr. Ferraris said, noting that the cemetery and its rusting and broken fences and crumbling concrete is not only an eyesore, but a safety hazard.

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