Long May She Wave, but Not Here

Sag Harbor tells gas station to remove 60-foot flagpole
The Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals denied a variance for a 60-foot flagpole, which was put up without permission at the gas station on Route 114. Taylor K. Vecsey

A 60-foot-tall flagpole in front of the redesigned Harbor Heights gas station in Sag Harbor Village has to come down, the village zoning board of appeals ruled on Tuesday night. The Z.B.A. denied a variance for the flagpole, which was erected without approval and is four times the height allowed under village code.

According to the code, in residential districts, the maximum height of a flagpole is 15 feet. In business and civic zones, 30-foot flagpoles are allowed. The gas station is a pre-existing nonconforming use in what is considered a residential area, despite being on Route 114.

Sukru Ilgin, the station’s owner, was requesting a variance for the additional 45 feet. He and his attorney tried to make a case first that the flagpole had been discussed during the approval process.

“The flagpole was not just put up in a vacuum without regard to the rules of the village,” Eli Markowitz told the board on behalf of his client, adding that it was part of the package presented. Mr. Ilgin’s company, 144 Hampton Road L.L.C. bought the property from the original applicant, Petroleum Ventures, in 2015, before construction started, for $2.5 million.

The approval process had taken 18 months, Tim McGuire, the board chairman, said. “At no point, including to the present, does the flagpole appear on the plan at any height. . . . In what sense was it not just put up here?”

“It was discussed with the village,” Mr. Markowitz said.

“This is the village, the zoning board of appeals,” the chairman said. It had not been applied for or approved. “It did just appear.”

Mr. Ilgin said it may not have been approved by the board, but that the building inspector, Tom Preiato, had given him the okay and that he would not have done it without permission.

Mr. McGuire suggested he seek an affidavit from the building inspector, but said it would not matter. “He wouldn’t have the authority to say that anyway.”

“I asked Tom specifically. I told him the height of the pole and where I’m going to put,” Mr. Ilgin told the board.

Mr. Preiato was not in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting, but by email yesterday, he said he did tell the owner he could put up a flagpole at the same height as the one that had been at the old gas station. It was lower than the permitted 15 feet, he said. “I had no idea that a 60-foot flagpole was being installed with a crane nor did I give permission for the same,” he wrote. “He told me he would remove it, but didn’t, so I issued a ticket.”

Even if Mr. Preiato had granted permission as Mr. Ilgrin said, “The code is the code and he can’t overrule it,” Susan Mead, a member of the board, said at the meeting.

A 60-foot flagpole acts as a sign, she said, adding that it can be seen from a great distance.

Robert Plumb, another member, agreed, and mentioned another example, one 80 to 100 feet tall on the Long Island Expressway. “It’s not a patriotic gesture.”

Michael Butler, a next door neighbor, said 60 feet for a flagpole is “quite exorbitant,” noting, by contrast, that the flagpoles at the Washington Memorial are 25 feet tall. “What is it that we are memorializing here, I wonder?”

He also said the flagpole is lighted at night, adding to the light pollution in the area.

Federal law stipulates that flags displayed at night must be “properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.”

Mr. Butler also said that the size and height of the flag create additional noise in the neighborhood as “it flutters and flaps in the wind.”

Jayne Young, representing Save Sag Harbor, called it an “egregious overstepping of even a normal variance that might be granted.”

Since 2011, members of the community group led a charge to reduce the number of variances requested by the gas station — the flagpole was not among them. Many residents feared an intensified commercial use. The board ended up granting a single setback variance, allowing for a 600-square-foot convenience store to be built in the old building’s existing space and the gas pumps were moved to the side of the building.

While residents have also complained that the new gas station’s signage, lighting, and the convenience store hours do not match up with the approved design, Mr. Preiato only issued a violation for the flagpole. 

Mr. McGuire polled the board, which unanimously voted against the variance. Denise Schoen, the attorney to the Z.B.A., will prepare a written decision, which gives the owner a timeframe in which to take the flagpole down.