Retail Space or Not? Depends Who’s Counting

The Harbor Heights Fuel Company wants to tear down its building on Hampton Street in Sag Harbor and replace it with a convenience store that would also function as a gas station. The new building, and its two fueling islands, would be perpendicular to the street. Morgan McGivern

    At the June 28 meeting of the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board, Larry Perrine, a board member, took a rather dim view of the presentation by an engineer for the Harbor Heights Fuel Company, accusing him of being a little too creative in calculating the square footage of a proposed convenience store on the Harbor Heights property.
    The owner, John Leonard, wants to replace the existing filling station building on Route 114 with a similarly sized “country store” that would also function as a gas station. Mr. Leonard also owns a second building on the property that he leases to an auto repair shop.
    According to the engineer, Chris Tartaglia, the new 1,842-square-foot building would include a 1,000-square-foot sales and display area, a 253-square-foot attendant’s area with counters front and back, and about 100 square feet of refrigerated beverage display cases. The remaining 483 square feet is to consist of a bathroom, utility closet, stairwell, and walk-in cooler.
    Although village code specifies that convenience stores are not to exceed “600 square feet of gross floor area for the display of goods for retail sale,” Mr. Tartaglia said the code is less than clear as to how it defines retail space for a filling station. When the footage to be used by customers purchasing gas is removed from the proposed 1,000-square-foot sales and display area, the retail space decreases to 600 square feet, he told the board.
    “I own a retail business, and in hearing you discuss it, it seems like you are being a little creative pulling out that square footage. My retail store has a certain amount of square footage and I would never consider areas that didn’t hold product not a part of the retail shop,” Mr. Perrine said.
    The engineer said he wasn’t trying to be creative, but was attempting to illustrate the code’s gray areas. This line of reasoning failed to sway Anthony Tohill, the village’s attorney, who said the code was clear and that the definition of gross floor area was very specific.
    When Mr. Leonard filed his application with the planning board last December, he said that one of his goals was to bring order to the chaotic site. His proposal includes curbs and two curb cuts along Route 114, which the board has acknowledged would improve traffic flow onto and off that busy thoroughfare.
    Both the country store and the two proposed fuel islands and canopies would run perpendicular to Route 114 in order to reduce their visual impact from the street, his representative said.
    The Harbor Heights application is also before the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals because it requires several variances.
    Richard Warren, Sag Harbor’s environmental consultant, said it was important that the zoning board provide input on the application before the planning board moves forward and suggested the public take concerns about the project to the zoning board.
    Mr. Leonard’s attorney, Dennis Downes, said 140 people had signed a petition in favor of the convenience store, which has already been submitted to the zoning board. He said his client wants to be flexible and had agreed to place a retaining wall along the eastern edge of the property to satisfy a request from a neighbor.
    In an effort to clarify which of the two boards has jurisdiction over the application, the planning board declared itself the lead agency on the Harbor Heights proposal, in exchange for a waiver from the applicant on a State Environmental Quality Review Act mandate that specifies that a decision on an application must be reached within 62 days of submission. The planning board is expected to review Mr. Leonard’s proposal again at its next meeting on July 26.