Bulova fate remains a mystery

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To the dismay of a community rapt with anticipation, the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals—for the third month in a row—did not vote Tuesday on whether to override an on-site affordable housing requirement in the redevelopment of the former Bulova watchcase factory.

The vote is largely understood to be the determining factor in the fate of the historic and crumbling brick factory building and the luxury apartment complex currently proposed.

In a surprise twist, it was not the ZBA’s choice to cancel the vote. The project developer, Sag Development Partners, pulled the plug on the long awaited decision. That move, coupled with the news that the firm is attempting to drop out of a lease for its proposed showroom in the Christy’s Antiques building on Main Street, could signal something more than just another procedural delay.

No representatives from the development company attended Tuesday’s meeting, and requests for comment from the company went unanswered Wednesday.

Over the past several months, the ZBA vote was scheduled and cancelled twice by Chairman Michael Bromberg because the Village Planning Board had not yet ruled on environmental impacts and affordable housing at the proposed complex. The project is designed to contain 49 units in the existing factory building and an additional 16 units in seven townhouses, which will be constructed nearby. A pool and recreation center are also included in the plan, which aims for a Platinum LEED certification, the highest level of environmentally friendly and energy-efficient design.

The Planning Board has since declared the project environmentally sound and committed to override a county requirement that 13 units on-site be designated for affordable housing. Instead, the Planning Board said it will accept a $2.275 million payment from Sag Development Partners (SDP) to help fund a housing trust.

This week, Mr. Bromberg said he was ready to decide on the project and opposed adjourning the vote for another 60 days, as requested by SDP, but the remaining ZBA members agreed to postpone the vote until June 17.

“Those of you who paid for reserved seats, see Doris for a refund,” the chairman joked, directing the disappointed public to the village secretary, Doris Alvarez. On a more serious note, Mr. Bromberg said the “village is dragging its feet” with the Bulova application and he gave no further explanation for SDP’s no show.

Late last week, SDP Project Manager David Kronman said that if his firm is forced to include on-site housing at Bulova, “the project would not be what it is now.” Such a plan would likely not include the restoration of the factory building, he said, and SDP would need to weigh its options and decide whether to continue with the project at all.

Mr. Bromberg has stated that he will deny any plan that does not include on-site affordable units while board member Anthony Hagen has indicated he will vote in favor of the project. The remaining three members of the board have remained silent about their intentions. The project needs a super majority—four of the five board members—to win approval.

Michael Eicke, the owner of the Christy’s Antiques building and a staunch supporter of the Bulova redevelopment, said the project may be facing problems much bigger than the affordable housing issue. He confirmed on Tuesday that SDP is attempting to break their lease to rent his property, an agreement they signed in September with the understanding that the developer would use the space as a showroom for selling Bulova apartments.

Pending the approval of SDP’s site plan and a green light for construction, the showroom has remained empty and unusable for both Mr. Eicke, who cleared out his antiques, and the developer.

“They want to back out,” Mr. Eicke said, noting, “I was in slight shock.”

Mr. Eicke said SDP gave him no further explanation than their desire to drop the lease, but he ventured to guess.

“You never know, but they probably can’t get financing,” Mr. Eicke said, suggesting the project lost its financial backers. That speculation echoes rumors that have been circling Sag Harbor for weeks.

It’s widely assumed that if SDP’s plan is not approved, or the firm backs out after enduring the lengthy village review process, there is little hope another developer will have the funds or desire to do anything but demolish the former factory building, if it would approach the property at all.

Mr. Hagen spoke after the Bulova adjournment Tuesday, publicly expressing his support for the project, which he said the majority of village taxpayers favor. “This proposal is a first-class proposal,” Mr. Hagen said, adding that “the project is beautiful and what we’ve all been hoping for, all along.” He went on to note that the delays are not because the board has a negative opinion of the project, but because of procedural reasons.

“The owners feel they need more time,” he added, explaining the newest in a long series of setbacks.

After the meeting, Mr. Bromberg appeared frustrated with the process and noted that ZBA member Benedetta Deubel had returned a day early from Europe and paid to have her airline ticket changed in order to participate in the adjourned vote. He said his opinion on the affordable housing issue still stands, but acknowledged that he’s considering other ways to handle the problem. Mr. Bromberg suggested that the housing donation may be insufficient and a larger sum more in keeping with the cost to construct actual affordable units might be something to consider.

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