Sag Harbor Planning Board Seeks To Fix Loopholes In Village Code - 27 East

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Sag Harbor Planning Board Seeks To Fix Loopholes In Village Code

Brendan J. OReilly on Jan 4, 2021

The Sag Harbor Village Planning Board is working to identify loopholes and unclear language in the village code and plans to recommend fixes for the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees to adopt.

During the Planning Board’s December 22 work session, Sag Harbor Village planning consultant Kathy Eiseman pointed out two issues with the code that have arisen time and time again. One concerns commercial properties in residential districts, and the second concerns the allowable lot coverage of a commercial property.

“This happens a lot when you’re working with the code,” Ms. Eiseman told the Planning Board. “You notice things that are loopholes in the code, and it’s sometimes very clear what the intent was when the code was written, but for whatever reason, it was never clarified.”

The first loophole she pointed to is inconsistency in when a buffer between a commercial property and a residential property is required.

Ms. Eiseman said the code requires a “transitional yard” of at least 15 feet for commercial properties that are adjacent to residentially zoned properties. “The intent of the code is to protect residential uses within residential zones from commercial uses in commercial districts when they are next to each other,” she noted. “So it’s not for residential uses in a commercial zoning district, where you kind of buy into that — you’re buying a house in a commercial area.”

But when buying a house in a residential zone, homeowners expect a buffer from a commercial property, she added.

The code does not require such a buffer for a business located in a residential zone. “Unfortunately, it’s silent when it comes to nonconforming uses within residential zones,” Ms. Eiseman said. “So it fails residents that are in those locations.”

She said nonconforming commercial properties should have the same transitional yard requirement that conforming commercial properties do. She added, “To me, this is a failing — something that is a loophole in the code that needs correction”

“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” said Planning Board Chair Kay Preston Lawson, “and I think that if the powers that be would agree, then it would provide clarity and clean up something that’s going to continue to be of interest as properties get redeveloped along Hampton Street [and] other streets that go from the village business district outwards through residential districts.”

The second issue with the village code that Ms. Eiseman raised is something that she said village building inspector Tom Preiato typically stops in its tracks.

“Lot coverage for commercial properties is supposed to include the entire parking lot,” Ms. Eiseman said. “There is a definition of ‘structure’ that when you are calculating lot coverage, you have to calculate all structures, but it excludes access driveways and walkways — and the intent of that is for residential properties. It makes sense to not include the lot coverage for a residential home. But that doesn’t make sense for parking lots.”

Applications are submitted that identity a strip of land in a parking lot as an “access driveway,” and, in most cases, Mr. Preiato corrects the matter before the cases proceed to regulatory boards.

Ms. Eiseman said the code can be clarified: “The only thing that needs to change is the definition of structure.”

She recommends that the code be amended to state that the exclusion of “at grade walkways and access driveways” only applies to single-family residential uses. “As soon as you do that, this confusion goes away,” she said.

Board member Neil Slevin brought up another matter that he would like to see addressed: Offices in residential districts.

Mr. Slevin said the code allows for a professional to have an office in a residential district, as long as the office is within the house the professional lives in. For example, there are attorneys who practice in Sag Harbor and have a sign in front of their home, he said, calling it “reasonable and traditional.” But then there are professionals who put office signs up at houses where they do not live.

“There is at least one absolute egregious circumstance that I have complained about to the village on a couple of occasions,” he said.

Ms. Lawson said there are many code amendments to talk about, and some are more appropriate to the Planning Board’s purview than others.

The board did not take any action during the meeting but plans to draft a memo to the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees after further discussion.

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