Parking Variance Request Ignites Debates Over Residential-To-Office Conversions In Sag Harbor - 27 East

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Parking Variance Request Ignites Debates Over Residential-To-Office Conversions In Sag Harbor

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The Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals July 21 meeting.

The Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals July 21 meeting.

Brendan J. OReilly on Jul 28, 2020

A request for a parking variance to convert a third-floor Main Street apartment into office space ignited a debate at the July 21 Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals meeting over whether such conversions should ever be allowed in the village.

The applicant wants to move his office staff to 66 Main Street, but the building would need 13 total parking spaces to do so. The existing, grandfathered parking for the property consists of just 10 spaces, so the owner is asking for the Zoning Board of Appeals to waive the last three required spaces.

The question put to the board was that of an area variance — the parking spaces themselves — and not a question of a use variance. Changing the use of the upper floors of Main Street buildings from residential to office is permitted under the law, as of right, with no use variance needed.

Tiffany Scarlato, the attorney representing the owner of 66 Main Street, Barbershop Quartet LLC, told that board that a precedent was set for a parking variance at 96 Main Street, where the owner had two fewer parking spaces than required for a conversion to an office.

Board member Susan Mead said she was sorry she voted to approve the 96 Main Street application.

“I think I did it not understanding that every time we vote, we’re screwed if we see a different situation,” Ms. Mead said, adding that now she believes the parking situation on Main Street is worse and a lack of affordable housing is changing the character of the village.

“We can’t grant everybody parking variances for conversion,” she said.

Board attorney Elizabeth Vail said the board must follow precedent if an application is similar, unless the board can identify factual differences.

Board member Alex Matthiessen asked if the board could look to Sag Harbor’s Local Residential Housing Plan and its recommendations on improving housing.

Ms. Vail said the board members may consider all of the information at their disposal in making a decision, from personal observations to previous decisions. However, she said this matter should be decided on parking and not on affordable housing.

Ms. Vail noted that the Planning Board had sent a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals asking the ZBA to get behind a plan to ban residential-to-office conversions on Main Street. “That’s a matter for the Village Board of Trustees to legislatively handle in their discretion,” she said.

Ms. Scarlato, a former Sag Harbor Village Board member, pointed out that she helped author the 2007 Local Residential Housing Plan. She also stressed that the Village Board previously eliminated office space on the first floor of buildings as a permitted use. The Village Board decided that second and third floors could be used as apartments or offices interchangeably because a use of first floor was taken away from property owners, she said.

“This is out of this board’s jurisdiction, and that decision has always been made by the Board of Trustees,” Ms. Scarlato said.

She also said $3,500 a month for a Main Street apartment — the going rate — is not affordable under any circumstances.

Ms. Mead suggested waiting for the results of a parking study before the board makes a decision.

Ms. Vail said there is no point in the board delaying a decision to wait for a study or to wait for the Village Board to pass a law, because the decision will be challenged in court and the judge will apply the original law.

“It’s unfortunate, but that’s generally how applications go,” he said.

Chairman Tom McGuire said the village has actually added about 20 parking spaces in the last three months by remarking parking areas.

Mr. Mattheissen and Ms. Mead both voted against granting the variance, but it was approved, 3-2.

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