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Jan 13, 2016 12:00 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor Village Residents Question Legality Of Moratorium

Former Sag Harbor Village Trustee Tim Culver addressed the village board and said there should be more transparency. ALISHA STEINDECKER
Jan 13, 2016 12:00 PM

Sag Harbor residents packed into the Municipal Building on Tuesday night to question the legality of a building moratorium that’s slated to expire this month, as it was never filed with the Suffolk County Planning Commission, as required by law.

Village officials challenged that position—“It depends on your point of view,” Mayor Sandra Schroeder said when asked about the veracity of the claims. But several in the crowd stood up and demanded a yes or no answer.

“The original one did not get sent to the Planning Commission, no,” she acknowledged.

According to the Department of State guidelines on land use moratoriums, municipalities are supposed to refer proposed moratoriums to the county. The guidelines read: “When enacting moratoria, municipalities should follow the procedures for enactment including newspaper notice, public posting, county referral, public hearing and filing after adoption of a local law.”

The guidelines also state that a moratorium that amends zoning should be referred to the County Planning Commission. However, Village Attorney Fred W. Thiele Jr. explained Wednesday that the village’s moratorium is not a zoning change. “The village’s position has been that a moratorium is not a zoning action—all it does is suspend the ability to issue approval,” he said. “It doesn’t change zoning.”

At the meeting, Mr. Thiele told an angry crowd: “There is a legitimate question as to whether it needed to be sent.”

It is up to the Suffolk County Planning Commission, a 15-member board, to give permission to municipalities to revise their village codes at the local level. The commission also examines large projects that could have regional effects.

According to county guidelines, there should be a referral to the county if a moratorium applies to a zoning action affecting a property within 500 feet of another municipal boundary or a state or county road.

“They don’t have to issue an approval,” Mr. Thiele said. “But, basically, if they were to disapprove, you would need a [super-majority] vote,” meaning that four of the five Village Board members would have to approve the legislation.

Nevertheless, Mr. Thiele explained that the legality of the moratorium, which was adopted in July, will ultimately not be determined, as it will “become moot.” The old moratorium was set to expire later this month, but in the meantime an interim moratorium was slated to take effect after being filed on Wednesday with the secretary of state. The interim moratorium will allow all applications to be processed while the village explores proposed zoning code changes.

The second interim moratorium was sent to the Planning Commission as a precautionary measure, Mr. Thiele said. “The moratorium that we adopted last night, while we don’t necessarily agree that it is a zoning action, we sent the second moratorium anyway,” he said. “And, of course, we got a letter from the Planning Commission saying we don’t approve or disapprove, because it’s a local determination.”

Under the interim moratorium, residents who had been exempt or excluded from the original moratorium would be able to proceed with applications and not have to comply with the newly proposed local laws, the most significant of which would base the permitted size of a home on its lot size. Additionally, applicants who had received approval from a village regulatory board before the adoption of the original moratorium could still apply for relief, although they would have to prove that they had spent a “substantial” amount of money.

“Put in what you want, and during this three-month process, you might not get approval until the end, but you can be processed. You can submit the application,” Mr. Thiele explained to the crowd at the meeting.

Several residents argued that this was essentially another law, not an interim moratorium.

“We elected to put this into place while the current moratorium expires because we need time to advertise the new proposed local laws,” Ms. Schroeder said, adding that adopting new laws takes time. “This will give our residents an opportunity to start moving on the processes,” she said.

Phil Pape, who was on the Southampton Village Planning Commission for six years, commended the village for getting out in front of things. However, he said, despite public hearings like that on Tuesday held before the board voted to adopt the interim moratorium, “It seems like the decisions have already been made,” Mr. Pape said. “The input has not come from the public at large.”

Mr. Pape said the process should be closer to that in Southampton Village, where roundtable discussions of proposed laws were held and there was open dialogue with the mayor and Board of Trustees, he said.

“I understand this, but this is America,” Mr. Pape said. “We are entitled to a democratic process. They have a right to have input in what they want their village to look like. There has been no information available.”

Another resident, Thomas Horn Jr., told the board that the proposed local laws are not in line with the founding principles of the village. He said that the houses in Sag Harbor were traditionally shoulder to shoulder. “Nobody had 40-foot side lines,” he said. “That’s the way Sag Harbor was, and the only reason bigger houses weren’t built was because no one could afford them.”

Another issue that came to light is proposed local law four, which states that swimming pools must have 30-foot setbacks from any side or rear property line.

A resident, Edwina Annicelli, told Ms. Schroeder and Mr. Thiele: “Neither of you could have a pool.” Ultimately, there would be few properties that could have a pool in Sag Harbor Village under that proposed law.

Mr. Thiele said that although he did not directly draft local law four, that was not its intent and it will be revisited.

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The trustees are obviously working behind the scene. Kick Thiele out he is an embarrassment to peoples basic rights.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jan 13, 16 12:42 PM
All the people involved in drafting the new laws should have to publicly publish the data for their own homes, so it can be seen whether or not their existing homes comply with the new laws, or whether they're making it so that others can't have what they do.
By GraysonJordan (9), Durban, KwaZulu-Natal on Jan 13, 16 1:43 PM
I'm still trying to figure out how one's point of view determines something's legality. Like, that's not how it works...
By Brandon Quinn (191), Hampton Bays on Jan 14, 16 1:13 AM