July 26, 2006
In Sag Harbor
Public Speaks Out About Proposed Moratorium
The Sag Harbor Village Trustees held a special public hearing last Thursday at the Municipal Building to suss out opinions on a proposed nine-month building moratorium on all commercial development in the village. There is concern that the unique characteristics of the village will be lost in the rush for development.
Put forth by Trustee Tiffany Scarlato, the moratorium would temporarily wrest away authority to grant projects site plan approval from the village's planning board and zoning board of appeals. In the interim, the trustees would amend the zoning code, which has not seen a major revision since 1984. The code on wetlands would also be revised.
The proposed law states the village board "has determined that the Village Code is outdated, contains many conflicts and does not address the needs of a village that is growing and changing both in character and population." The changes cited refer to the "accelerated" rate of residential and commercial development, record high property values, lack of affordable housing and the worsening of parking and traffic related problems.
The districts of Resort Motel, Village Business, Waterfront and Marine are in focus. "The orderly development of these areas is crucial to the long-term future of the Village," the law asserts.
But board members appear to be cautious about jumping into something that may have unintended consequences. They are taking measures to review the public's comments and the potential mishaps that come with a moratorium.
Deputy Mayor Gregory Ferraris opened the meeting by commenting, "I am in full support of review of the zoning code . . . however, I am not in favor of a nine month proposed moratorium."
Delores Zebrowski, who has lived in the village for 84 years, questioned the board about what is being done to help the elderly with regard to housing. "People like me need a place to go" when home care gets too difficult, she said. She called the moratorium "unfair," and "the situation in town for housing for seniors" as "desperate."
"Moratoriums are a true, tested and very effective planning tool," said Pam Gleason.
Eva Stern noted the idea of a moratorium seemed to create an air of "animosity and intimidation" in the village, citing personal threats she received for being in favor of it. "The most obnoxious construction is happening right in the center of the village," she continued. "I think it would behoove you all to consider a moratorium. It is so necessary."
Some residents warned the moratorium might ward off developers who have taken on projects many consider essential such as the restoration of the Bulova building and the replacement of the 21 Water Street nightclub, known for its noise violations.
"Don't hold these people hostage, but use them . . . " advised Reuben Shapiro, who noted that it was "unfair" to disregard the amount of work the developers have done in the last year.
New owners Cape Advisors and Alf Naman Real Estate Advisors seek to restore the crumbling Bulova building back to its glory days, most likely slating it for residential living space versus its former life as a watchcase factory. The owners have not yet committed to its intended use following the restoration.
The 21 Water Street renovation is one of two building proposals submitted by Michael Maidan, who wants to construct a two and a half story, 20-unit apartment building where the nightclub stands. He also wants to replace the Harborview Professional Building and the Diner building with a 22-unit complex on Ferry Road adjacent to the North Haven-Sag Harbor bridge.
To those who were concerned about the monetary damage the moratorium could have, attorney Jeff Bragman, who is in favor of it, assured, "You're not going to lose your business base because interest will never go away," noting the steady pace of tourism from New York City. "I don't think development should control your destiny. I think you should control your destiny."
Attorney Dennis Downes criticized the board for what he believes is a hasty move to winnow through the code to revise it.
"What are the outdated sections of the code?" he challenged. Downes helped author the last major revision of the code over 20 years ago.
"If you're going to do a complete rewrite, do you have a new comprehensive plan?" he said, adding that rewriting code would take a minimum two years to complete. "It's a monumental task. You're not going to get it changed in nine months."
He also referred to an internal "memo" that may relate to the moratorium that the board has withheld from the public. The contents of that memo are unknown and Mayor Ed Deyermond declined to give details.
"I think that that is an internal government memo at this point," he said on Monday. "I think it's a privileged document."
Bragman and Downes each represent opposing clients connected to a building proposal in the village on Main Street that is currently stalled in legal proceedings. Downes' client Jon Gruen is looking to put up a two story, 4,000-square foot, mixed- use structure, with apartments on the top floor. The site is sandwiched between two historic houses.
Bragman, representing the owner of one of the antique homes, has previously argued that Gruen was trying to sidestep important legal procedures in obtaining parking permits and the approval of the proposed width of parking isles. Downes maintained his client's proposal was legally sufficient.
After about two hours of public commentary, the board agreed to close the hearing and discuss the matter and perhaps vote on it at its next work session, scheduled for Friday at the Municipal Building at 4 p.m.
Deyermond, who is opposed to the moratorium, suspects the board is leaning towards voting against it. With Bulova and the two Maidan projects underway, projects that residents have long sought a solution for, the timing for a moratorium seems inappropriate.
"I'm happy that there is a project being prepared for the three various sites, and I'm looking forward to the various advisory boards researching them, and discussing them and coming up with plan that, at the end of a day, will be a huge benefit for the village," said Deyermond.