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Feb 4, 2009 10:58 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor nearing decision on code changes

Feb 4, 2009 10:58 AM

Opinions of Sag Harbor’s proposed and hotly contested village code revisions, which primarily target the downtown business district, were mixed during a public hearing held last week by the Village Board.

While most agreed that the January 29 meeting provided for productive and informative dialogue, two actions remain fundamentally at odds over the code changes and the philosophy behind them.

Facing development pressure, including three large-scale condominium projects and corporate retail chains looking to take over smaller mom-and-pop stores in the village, the board hired a pair of consultants to make the proposed code revisions.

“We had a lot of concerns,” Mayor Gregory Ferraris said. The current “patchwork code” left the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals feeling “defenseless when dealing with some of these projects,” he added.

A second hearing on the proposed code changes will be held on Friday, February 13. An environmental review of the code revision is underway, and a completed report of its environmental impacts must be forwarded to East Hampton and Southampton towns, the Village of North Haven, Suffolk County and New York State before the village can approve the changes. Mr. Ferraris said he expected the board to act on the changes in the near future.

Trustee Tiffany Scarlato initiated the code revision and brought in attorney Anthony Tohill and planning consultant Rich Warren to create a document that would preserve the historic integrity of the village. However, many of the provisions appear largely driven by the community preservation group Save Sag Harbor.

The group formed in the summer of 2007 after news that a 10,000-square-foot CVS superstore would likely replace the 7-Eleven and neighboring shops on Long Island Avenue. The group’s clout and membership grew quickly, and before long, the organization’s lawyer, Jeff Bragman, had laid out a host of ideas to curtail development and maintain the historic character and diversity of the 300-year-old whaling port.

More recently, village landlords and business owners formed the Sag Harbor Business Alliance. One of SBA’s primary objectives is to protect the business community from restrictions that its members believe could hurt property values and the local economy.

Though the completed document was not unveiled until last May, the proposed code revisions were introduced in September 2007. The document places limitations on the size and location of specific types of stores in the village’s business district. One of the more controversial provisions prohibits certain businesses, such as real estate firms, banks and other non-retail shops, in the business district. If the code changes are adopted, those kinds of businesses will be relegated to an outlying office district, though preexisting non-retail shops would be allowed to remain.

The code allows only new retail and restaurants to open in the business district, though that zone has been reduced to the properties along Main Street to account for the newly formed office district.

Proposed changes of use would be closely monitored under the new code, although switching from one retail operation to another would require little more than a trip to the village Building Department. Spaces larger than 3,000 square feet would automatically require a site-plan review. Mr. Ferraris noted that applications would be approved easily if the new business has no additional sewage or parking requirements.

The proposed code does not permit stores larger than 10,000 square feet.

Responding to the suffering economy, the Village Board announced a recent change last week that would permit offices to fill second-story spaces along Main Street. In an attempt to promote affordable apartments, the revision had previously prohibited second-story offices unless they were accessory to the retail business below.

The board responded to public comment and made numerous changes to the document since it was revealed last spring. “We addressed all concerns of the public that we were able to address,” Ms. Scarlato said.

At the hearing, the mayor acknowledged that questions and comments from Save Sag Harbor and the Sag Harbor Business Alliance would provide the basis for the evening’s dialogue.

American Hotel owner and SBA co-founder Ted Conklin said his group was not pleased with the code revisions and called for a completely new code to be drafted. He said all camps share a similar vision for the future, but they clearly disagree on how to get there.

“We’re the envy of all the other villages,” Mr. Conklin said, explaining that Sag Harbor has had 25 years of extraordinary success under the current code. He charged that the added restrictions would drive new tenants away.

Michael Eicke, another SBA member and the owner since 1994 of the Christy’s building on Main Street, said he has put a lot of money into his investment and now he’s suffering without a tenant.

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Maintain the historic character and diversity of the 300-year-old whaling port.

The group formed in the summer of 2007 after news that a 10,000-square-foot CVS superstore would likely replace the 7-Eleven and neighboring shops on Long Island Avenue.

Why don't you rewrite all the zoning laws, bypass the building codes and build a Super Wal-Mart at the end of long wharf.
Lack of proposed code revisions is what makes Sag Harbor unique. Leave it alone please!!!!
By Dragharbor1980 (9), North Haven on Feb 6, 09 9:45 PM
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