Attorneys Spar Over Harbor Heights; Date Set For Decision

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Members of the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals shed a ray of light on Monday on which way they lean in the more-than-three-year fight pitting the Harbor Heights gas station against community preservationists.

At a work session on Monday, the behavior of opposing attorneys seemed to tell the story—with the applicant’s attorney, Dennis Downes, calmly walking out of the meeting before it was finished, while Save Sag Harbor’s attorney, Jeffrey Bragman, stayed to the end, grousing about board members and confronting Village Attorney Denise Schoen.

The owners of Harbor Heights, a small, country-style gas station on Route 114, want to create a convenience store in what is now just an attendant’s area, expand the fueling stations from five to eight, and move the pump island away from the road to a new canopied area on the west side of the building.

Petroleum Ventures, LLC. is now asking the board to approve three variances, a significant reduction from the number originally requested three years ago. However, Save Sag Harbor has fought the plans, arguing that a highway-style, canopied station does not fit the ambiance of Sag Harbor, and asking for an even more scaled-down version of the plans without the canopy and convenience store.

Examining the application on Monday variance by variance, and applying the five questions of appropriateness used for every variance application, the board at times seemed to be in favor of Save Sag Harbor’s arguments.

“The new code written in 2009, the parts of it written in relation to gas stations, had the Harbor Heights expansion in mind, so you’d have to think that the code was set to restrict these plans,” said board member Tim McGuire.

Later on, when a traffic study commissioned by the applicant was said to indicate only negligible traffic impact on neighbors in the residential area, Chairman Anton Hagen flat out said, “I don’t agree with the numbers they gave us. They gave percentages instead of hard numbers.” He said the project would not be financially feasible if the uptick in traffic was so negligible.

“For the community, I don’t think it is a positive thing that the convenience store will be there,” said board member Brendan Skislock—to which Mr. Hagen replied that whether or not there should be a convenience store isn’t within their purview, just how large it could be.

Earlier, the applicant had mentioned to the board that another Long Island gas station was seeking a similar renovation. “In [this other case], we’re going from four fueling stations to eight, and the court approved that as not an expansion of a non-conforming use?” Mr. Hagen asked Ms. Schoen. When she confirmed that, Mr. Hagen said, “To go against the court’s ruling would be unwise.”

Mr. Skislock said moving the pumps away from the road will be a major benefit to the community, citing safety risks, and board members began to agree with him. “Those pumps are a total tragic accident waiting to happen,” Mr. Mcguire said.

Mr. Bragman and a Save Sag Harbor member repeatedly made disparaging remarks about board members and Ms. Schoen during the meeting, loud enough for audience members to hear, and Mr. Bragman confronted Ms. Schoen after the meeting. Afterward, visibly upset, she said, “He just can’t help himself, he can’t. He has to pick a fight.”

The drama has an end in sight, with the board set to take a straw poll at its next work session on January 10 and an official vote on January 17. Even so, both attorneys have hinted at post-decision litigation if things don’t go their way.

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