The popular Main Street restaurant LT Burger in Sag Harbor is zoned to seat no more than 56 patrons at a time.
Yet, depending on the day, the actual seat count never goes below 96, according to general manager Jenn Cajthaml.
“The restaurant looks ridiculous with 56 seats,” Ms. Cajthaml said. “It looks so empty. We couldn’t pay our rent at 56 seats.”
The eatery, which resides in the first floor of the Bur-Mac, LLC building—62 Main Street—owned by attorney Edward Burke Jr., has since the spring been trying to legally remedy its seating situation.
Attorney Brian DeSesa, an associate of Mr. Burke, has argued on behalf of Bur-Mac LLC on multiple occasions and as recently as two weeks ago, before the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals. The issue holding up a seating decision isn’t the size of the restaurant, as it can hold 120 people according to the fire marshal’s assessment, but the number of parking spaces behind the building. The village code allows a restaurant to have only three seats inside for every off-street parking space it is allotted.
“We can have 120 people in here having a great time—they just can’t sit,” said Ms. Cajthaml. “It’s a game, it’s such a game.”
As acting manager, Ms. Cajthaml, and not the business itself, has been issued several code violation tickets by the village, and two are still pending. Since the restaurant’s ZBA appeal began, a sign has been placed in the window noting that its seating is under review.
“They can’t ticket me as long as that sign is in the window,” Ms. Cajthaml said.
Up until 2009, restaurant owners who wanted to add seating would pay into a community parking fund. While the fund still exists, when the village code was rewritten in 2009, the board of trustees did away with the pay-per-seat method.
“We do have an account still to try to establish more parking around the village,” said Mayor Brian Gilbride, “but people can no longer contribute to it as a way of adding more seats. At some point, the fund wasn’t alleviating traffic on Main Street—there were no spots for the fund to purchase—and more seats would just make things worse.”
Before the ZBA last week, Mr. DeSesa asked for an additional 21 seats, bringing the legal total to 77. “We’re not looking to circumvent any rules,” he said, a nod to the practice of having too many seats but removing them whenever an official checks in. His argument for the 21 seats was that LT Burger’s situation—being allowed fewer than half the number that otherwise would be allowed under occupancy regulations—is unique in the village.
ZBA members wanted to hear more about the seating allowed at other Main Street under fire codes.
“I’m hesitant,” Chairman Anthony Hagen said, adding that he thinks the village has reached a tipping point as far as seating at Main Street restaurants. “It would be unfair to other restaurants as well. It will place an undue burden on them, and then they’ll be coming before the board asking for relief.”
Board member Brendan Skislock added, “Get us as much information as you can about the other restaurants’ seating and occupancy, because you can see how we’re leaning.”
Even so, Ms. Cajthaml said her attorneys are confident they will be granted an additional 10 or 20 seats. “Which is still way too little—we have an hour-long wait list with 100 seats,” said. “This is going to be an ongoing battle between the village and the restaurants of Sag Harbor.”
Bur-Mac, LLC has three options: hold out for a change in village code, get a seating variance from the ZBA, or wait until the current immunity-by-appeal runs out and then either continue to be fined or eliminate seats.
The application before the ZBA was tabled until the next meeting on October 15.