Saunders, Real Estate, Hamptons

Hamptons Life

Dec 10, 2015 5:17 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Homeowners Accuse Neighbor Of Pilfering Documents

Attorney Alex Kriegsman and Attorney Charles Hamilton for Frank Ahimaz and Steven Barr, who believe that they have the right to construct the home they want on their property. ALISHA STEINDECKER
Dec 14, 2015 10:42 AM

The owners of a home in Sag Harbor’s historic district who want to expand it claim that they have been treated unfairly—and that the community organization Save Sag Harbor has played an unduly heavy-handed role.

Steven Barr and Frank Ahimaz, the property owners, also say that letters supporting their project were stolen by a vocal board member of the organization who lives next door.

At a Village Board meeting on December 8, that accusation came to light when the homeowners’ attorney, Alex Kriegsman, requested an exemption from the village’s building moratorium, which is set to expire in one month. Adopted in July, it applies to the construction of new homes larger than 3,500 square feet on lots that are less than one-half acre, and to houses of more than 5,000 square feet on lots that are larger than one-half acre. It also applies to renovations that would cost 50 percent or more of the home’s market value.

Mr. Kriegsman—who has called his clients “historic preservationists”—argued that Mr. Barr and Mr. Ahimaz have faced a “substantial hardship” in trying to renovate and expand their home at 43 Howard Street since June 2014. They had received the Sag Harbor Historical Society’s 2003 annual award for the restoration and renovation of their home on 96 Madison Street, Mr. Kriegsman pointed out.

The attorney blamed Save Sag Harbor and also stated that Mia Grosjean had delayed the process by taking letters in support of the project. The day after the meeting, he also said that a Zoning Board of Appeals member, Anton Hagen, had to recuse himself on the application because Ms. Grosjean had “made inappropriate contact” with him about it.

Dennis Downes, an attorney, was looking for the letters of support on behalf of his own clients, whose project had nothing to do with the house on Howard Street, in June when the secretary of the Building Department, Doris Alvarez, told him in an email that Ms. Grosjean had picked up some documents, either his or those of Mr. Barr and Mr. Ahimaz. The secretary’s email was also sent to Village Clerk Beth Kamper, Building Inspector Thomas Preiato, ZBA attorney Denise Schoen and others.

The email stated that Mr. Downes or Mr. Ahimaz had left documents in the meeting room. “I saw Mia Grosjean taking the set of documents and placing them in her bag. I approached Mia as she was leaving the meeting room and kindly asked her to hand over the documents she took from the table,” Ms. Alvarez wrote.

She described the encounter as “embarrassing.” Ms. Grosjean looked through her bag, Ms. Alvarez said, but “unfortunately, she didn’t find the documents.”

Ms. Grosjean told Ms. Alvarez that she would drop them off the next day—and she did, the email said. “I told her that would be the right thing to do, as those documents didn’t belong to her,” Ms. Alvarez wrote.

“It shows the lengths this woman is going to go to try to defeat our application,” Mr. Kriegsman said last week, adding that Ms. Grosjean and other individuals who are a part of Save Sag Harbor have “hijacked” the process of reviewing applications.

Jeffrey Bragman, Ms. Grosjean’s attorney, however, said the accusations are a distraction from the real issue—what the owners plan to do with the home. “It is a movie flat restoration,” he said. “They will keep one little box in the front and it will look like a new house.

“What they should do is work with the volume and shape of the home and then build and extension off of that,” he continued, stressing that the moratorium is meant to block projects that fail to preserve historic integrity.

This week, Mr. Bragman urged the Village Board to deny the exemption request, saying it is a blanket violation of the moratorium’s substantial improvement clause, which states that renovations on a home cannot cost more than 50 percent of the home’s value. He argued that the applicants barely revised their plans based on what he called the ARB’s negative reaction to the application.

“And, all of a sudden, because of the intervention of Mia Grosjean and Save Sag Harbor, they state outright that there are nefarious dealings going on,” he said.

While the exact square footage of the home was not available because of a discrepancy between the numbers the Village Board had and the numbers the architect, Scott Baker, had, the size of Mr. Barr and Mr. Ahimaz’s home would increase by roughly 1,500 square feet if approved by the Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review—and also the Village Board because of the required exemption from the moratorium.

Mr. Bragman also said on Friday that it is perfectly acceptable for Ms. Grosjean to approach Mr. Hagen, or any government official, about any project. “You certainly have a First Amendment right to approach your elected official,” he said. “That is pure political speech of the best sort.”

He continued, “They say this must be a conspiracy against us because we have a sympathetic restoration that we are going to do. The ARB didn’t like what they were going to do, and neither does my client, who will be 14 feet away from it.”

But Mr. Kriegsman said the ARB did not have a negative reaction, and that his clients were caught in the moratorium because the ARB never voted on their application, although the ZBA did approve their request for variances.

And in fact his clients went further: “As quite possibly the only interracial couple in the Sag Harbor Historic District, the only empirical conclusion is that perhaps there is some other motivation guiding the village’s actions,” they wrote in their application for an exemption. “Perhaps the village would prefer that we relocate to one of Sag Harbor’s historically black areas where exemptions appear to be granted according to different criteria than in the historic district where we live and own two properties.”

“There are a lot of troubling things about their case,” Mr. Kriegsman said. “Right now, they are trying to move forward in the process. It is ridiculous.”

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I am shocked, saddened and disgusted to read that Ms. Grosjean would take documents belonging to others. One of those letters was written by me, a neighbor, supporting the proposed restoration of number 43 Howard. I was at the meeting, and heard first hand, the allegations. No defense was offered.
By Aidan Corish (16), Sag Harbor on Dec 10, 15 10:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
The moratorium was passed for a reason. I would like to ask all these homeowners fighting the moratorium why they moved to the Village in the first place. I'm sure they thought this was a beautiful place to live; and it was before they came here with their bags of money and ideas of just tearing down beautiful houses and putting up ugly oversized eyesores, that don't belong in the Village. If you don't like the moratorium, MOVE.
By rvs (106), sag harbor on Dec 11, 15 12:57 AM
2 members liked this comment
If you don't like the theory of property rights you should move to Russia. What kind of balls does it take to make someone change their house to your liking?
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Dec 11, 15 8:55 AM
This is a typical so-called SAVE SAG HARBOR jihadist comment. These people are just not nice. Or neighborly. Or smart. They are not even real historic preservationists! Most everyone wants to keep Sag Harbor special and historic. It costs a lot of money to restore and preserve these historic homes. Most neighbors do a pretty good job. Every reasonable person supports reasonable limits on building, etc. No one but the most craven developers want McMansions on small Village lots. These must ...more
By SANE SAG HARBOR (8), Sag harbor on Dec 11, 15 11:26 AM
2 members liked this comment
The moratorium is, although in theory a good thing, flawed in execution.

A friend of mine is attempting to restore his Sag Harbor home. He wants to lift it, place it on a new foundation at the same height above grade, bring the house up to code, replace windows in kind and put in a new kitchen. He isn't changing the footprint or adding to the size at all. Because of the value of the structure, he has a budget that isn't sufficient to use some of the material he was planning on.

The ...more
By Draggerman (955), Southampton on Dec 11, 15 8:04 AM
This is a very intelligent comment
By SANE SAG HARBOR (8), Sag harbor on Dec 11, 15 11:45 AM
1 member liked this comment
Save sag harbor is a joke. They only want to save their summer home vistas and property values, they don't care at all about the locals or their livelihood. Screw sag harbor is more accurate...
By Brandon Quinn (191), Hampton Bays on Dec 11, 15 4:49 PM
I don't live in Sag Harbor but I agree that language regarding the cost of a renovation is silly. It should be about the size of any proposed additions.
By Rich Morey (378), East Hampton on Dec 11, 15 11:03 PM
Sag Harbor Costs That Must Be Included for Substantial Improvement Determinations:

Items that must be included in the costs of improvement and the costs to repair are those that are directly associated with the building. The following list of costs that must be included is not intended to be exhaustive, but characterizes the types of costs that must be included:
- Materials and labor, including the estimated value of donated or discounted materials and owner or volunteer labor
-Site ...more
By Aidan Corish (16), Sag Harbor on Dec 12, 15 12:48 AM
2 members liked this comment
In response to Ms Grosjean's attorney:

Mr.Hagen is/was not an elected official. He was at the time in-question the appointed Chairman of the Sag Harbor Village ZBA. It is prohibited and unethical to have ex-parte contact with a ZBA member concerning a live application to opportune such member and specifically ask the ZBA member to intervene with the process or with the Building Department on one's own behalf. This is what Ms Grosjean's did. Repeatedly.

Mr Hagen is a wonderful ...more
By SANE SAG HARBOR (8), Sag harbor on Dec 14, 15 12:56 PM
The moratorium is not well thought out because as usual it was not written by Mr Thiele. Words are stolen from other poorly written documents and passed as legislation. The words contained in Mr. Corish's quotation are taken from a FEMA document. FEMA P-758. You will probably find the rest of the moratorium in some other municipality. Sag Harbor is a unique and wonderful place and deserves well thought out legislation drafted for its unique stature, not plagiarized from someplace else that has no ...more
By diy_guy (101), Southampton on Dec 21, 15 6:12 PM
2 members liked this comment
Thank you! Just read it, copied word for word.

I have always had issues with the idea of a substantial value clause with reference to historic preservation. It never made sense. Historic preservation renovations can cost up to 400% of normal construction. I am aghast that rules written for flood plain protection by FEMA have been foisted onto the unsuspecting residents of Sag Harbor, as preservation protection in such a pious and hypocritical manner. Shameful.
By Aidan Corish (16), Sag Harbor on Dec 22, 15 11:10 PM
that's freddie never a real thought and has never met a microphone he didn't want to make love to or a mirror he didn't think had the best reflection ever!!!
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Dec 21, 15 6:33 PM