Harbor Heights Presents New Plans To Sag Harbor ZBA

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Newly submitted plans for the long-debated expansion of a Sag Harbor gas station were presented to the public on Tuesday night in front of a packed house full of opposition.

Harbor Heights, a Sag Harbor service station on Route 114 that, in the words of its own representative, is a “rundown mess,” is one of only two gas stations in Sag Harbor. Often, especially when serious storms are forecast, cars line up on the shoulder of Route 114, as drivers wait for a turn at one of the station’s two pumps at four fueling spots.

It has been three years of turmoil since John Leonard of Petroleum Ventures LLC, which owns property, originally proposed renovations that would have required eight variances from the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals. Neighbors of the business and the community organization Save Sag Harbor, which aims to preserve the village’s historic and residential qualities, have publicly opposed the plans at ZBA meetings. The original plans called for a new service building, removing the pump island near the road and putting in a four-pump island with an overhanging canopy.

In the new plans, discussed at the ZBA meeting Tuesday night, Mr. Leonard cut the requested variances down to four, largely by choosing to renovate the existing building instead of building a new one. According to Chris Tartaglia of High Point Engineering, who spoke on behalf of Petroleum Ventures, the revised plans also eliminated the need for a variance allowing the canopy to be set closer than 35 feet to the road, as well as a variance needed to construct a new business sign.

Mr. Tartaglia informed the board that the variance for the canopy is no longer needed because the gas station will have part of the canopy customized and cut off on the end nearest to the road.

“It will have an atypical roof with minimal height and will be cut off to comply with the 35-foot front-yard setback requirement,” Mr. Tartaglia said. “Anyone fueling at the island closest to the street will get wet or have snow on them, but we’ll comply with the code,” he said with a slight smile. He added that the business has made concessions that will end up hurting the bottom line in order to alleviate the ZBA’s concerns.

The variance for the proposed sign, which was to be a “beautiful hand-carved wooden sign,” according to Mr. Tartaglia, is no longer needed because “we’re now going to leave the existing, big, tall sign in place,” he said with another smile, drawing grumbles from the Save Sag Harbor crowd.

The main variance would allow the gas station to exceed the maximum retail sales area allowed under village code, set at 600 square feet. The current building is 718 square feet, which after renovation would be the same size but also include a bathroom, shelves for a convenience store and an area for the attendant.

Mr. Tartaglia argued that no other East End town has anything in its code limiting the maximum space for a convenience store, and that Sag Harbor’s 600-square-foot limit is strictly arbitrary. He said the plan had been scaled down as much as possible without making profit impossible.

Mr. Tartaglia told the board that 80 to 88 linear feet of shelving is suggested by industry experts for maximizing profit, but that Harbor Heights had shaved that back to about 40 feet of shelf space.

The conversation then shifted from convenience store to placement of the new pumps.

“At the risk of offending my client, the place is rundown and it’s a mess,” said Mr. Tartaglia. “It is a 1950s-style layout and design at best. We understand the community concerns, and we’ve tried to put our best foot forward. We’ve engineered this plan for over three years, and I’m sorry to be so repetitious, but we’ve designed this to the absolute minimal scale. The place needs to be upgraded to stay alive. It is in sore need of an upgrade—a necessity to keep the business alive.”

When Chairman Anton Hagen started to ask questions about the pump locations, Mr. Tartaglia shot back: “The [current] pumps are literally in the right of way. They are in the street. How can anyone not view this proposal as an absolute increase benefiting the community?”

Mr. Tartaglia continued, saying, “Four pumps will have a calming effect, helping us avoid these God-awful queues that occur on 114. If we don’t add more pumps, we have nothing to alleviate the problems.”

At about 9:10 p.m., the attorney for Save Sag Harbor, Jeffrey Bragman, who was expected to make a long rebuttal in addition to asking concerned residents to speak as well, stepped up to the podium. “I’m going to be long,” he said bluntly—at which point the application was tabled until October 15.

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