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123 Sterling developer abruptly leaves Village board meeting

A public hearing on a controversial waterfront project in Greenport took a turn Thursday evening after developer Paul Pawlowski indicated he’d withdraw his application to modify plans for 123 Sterling Avenue and abruptly left the meeting.

Mr. Pawlowski had been seeking permission to modify a 2007 legal agreement that would ultimately allow the relocation of five affordable units to a separate building on the property, thus allowing him to offer all 17 units in the main building at market rate.

The developer proposed the modifications earlier this summer, arguing that the change would allow him to keep the affordable units affordable in perpetuity. “We think they’re an improvement to what is currently permitted,” he said, adding that they’ve also worked for the last year to improve the building’s aesthetic in response to community concerns.

A large showing of neighbors — including nearly 40 of whom stood outside of the Third Street firehouse in the rain due to social distancing restrictions — attended the hearing to voice their opposition to the modification, carrying signs that read “Stop 123 Sterling Project” and “Stick to the rules” as they listened to the proceedings through a speaker.

Ellen Schnepel, chair of the Sterling Basin Neighborhood Association and an original signatory to the 2007 legal stipulation, said the association has been unable to come to an agreement with Mr. Pawlowski on the changes to the site plan. “We insist that the 2007 stipulation be followed to the letter,” Ms. Schnepel said.

Mr. Pawlowski returned to the podium following Ms. Schnepel’s remarks and said the project needs the support of the SBNA. “So we respectfully withdraw the application and will do exactly as the stipulation says,” he said. “We’re going to go to the letter of the law,” he said before walking out of the firehouse.

The approved site plan according to the legal settlement calls for a three-story, 45,000-square-foot building, with the first floor capable of being divided into 10 or more individual offices or marine-related businesses. The second and third stories were approved for 17 residential condominiums, 12 of which would be sold at market rate. The remaining five units were to be sold at affordable rates.

An artist’s rendering of what 123 Sterling might look like under the latest proposal. (Courtesy graphic)

Village officials opted to continue with the hearing, where neighbors continued to push for more oversight of current building activity at the site.

“I don’t think [Mr. Pawlowski] wants to build [according to the stipulation,]” said neighbor Joe Flotteron. “I think any opportunity to change it or improve it or make it more profitable, he’s going to take. I don’t want to feel like it’s the wild west out there and whatever this guy wants to do he’s going to get to do.”

Lane Bubka, an attorney representing a nearby property owner in litigation over the project, said the 2019 building permit approval completely ignores “all of the changes,” since 2007 with respect to FEMA maps, climate change and flood maps.

“All of that is reason to stop and review,” added Tony Spiridakis of Sterling Street.

Mr. Spiridakis also spoke out in opposition to the proposed change to move the affordable units to their own building. “The spirit of affordable housing is that those five units are inside that building. That matters to me,” he said. “We’re not going to be unhappy when there are five affordable units at the end of my street. I’m going to be very proud.”

Village officials, however, contend that there is oversight. Last november — after a foundation was poured for the building — the board hired J. R. Holzmacher P.E., LLC of Ronkonkoma, to supplement the village building department. The firm, according to village administrator Paul Pallas, has been conducting inspections on the property.

“We did listen to the community and we went out and hired this company to do exactly what [residents] were asking us to do,” Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said, adding that the cost of the engineering firm to the village is being paid for by the developer.

A wetlands permit for the 123 Sterling Avenue property was also granted Thursday with an amendment to allow Mr. Pawlowski to use the eastern bulkhead to dock boats. The resolution was approved in a 4-1 vote, with Ms. Phillips voting no.

Earlier Thursday during a fiery exchange with board members, local captain Dave Berson spoke up about the wetlands permit, claiming professional mariners were left out of discussions. 

“I’m very, very concerned that this village has completely turned their back on what has made this village great, which is the waterfront,” Mr. Berson said. “Not the shops, not the condos…not all the other hazarai. [a Yiddish slang word for junk, per google.]

Ms. Phillips said the discussion has been ongoing publicly for months. “You have had plenty of opportunity to arrive at any one of these meetings to discuss it,” she said.