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Feb 25, 2015 10:10 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor Residents Concerned About Extent Of Development In Village

Feb 25, 2015 10:43 AM

Sag Harbor, known for its quaint, historic homes and small-town New England feel, has often been referred to as the “un-Hamptons,” one of the few places on the East End that went a long time without being overrun by mini-mansions and large commercial buildings.

But within the past year and a half, the little village has been bustling with development, and many residents are concerned that its fabric and integrity are being threatened—so much so that community members have begun to rally for change.

A Change.org petition drawn up nearly two weeks ago by Save Sag Harbor, a nonprofit organization that aims to protect the character of the village, has already garnered almost 600 signatures from residents near and far, old and new, who want to see officials take action to control a recent trend in oversized homes that they claim is gaining momentum.

“Sometimes, things change incrementally and you don’t notice them—that’s not the case here,” said Jayne Young, a member of Save Sag Harbor’s 11-member board who was designated to speak to The Press. “You just realize that this is something coming in from the outside that is going to forever change our community.”

The petition calls for officials to take a closer look at the village code, which Save Sag Harbor members say is not being strictly enforced, as regulatory boards such as the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review have granted variances and approvals for homes that are not in scale with their surroundings.

Ms. Young pointed specifically to homes on Howard, Hempstead, Glover and Bay streets, Long Island Avenue, and the upper end of Main Street, as well as a subdivision off Route 114 known as Lighthouse Landing. The latter development, currently under construction, includes six cedar shake homes that are up to 4,000 square feet in size and priced at almost $2 million each.

In addition to asking that officials consider rewriting portions of the code, Save Sag Harbor also is suggesting that the village hire more staff in the Building Department to help with a surge of applications, as well as a historic preservationist. In December, the village terminated Building Inspector Jose Escalante, leaving Senior Building Inspector Tom Preiato as the municipality’s sole authority in the Building Department.

Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said this week he is aware of the petition but hasn’t seen it yet. He said he agrees that houses have increased in size recently, but added that community members should attend meetings and speak out against applications they have concerns with. “When these applications come before the boards, that’s the time people should be in front of the boards having something to say,” he said. “I would say that because, so far, they haven’t gone in front of these boards to have something to say on certain applications. Now is the time to do that.

“The houses are a lot bigger now,” he added. “We have people moving in that have the resources to do that.”

Mr. Preiato, on the other hand, said the village has been abiding by the code. Since starting work in November, he said he has not come across any applications or approvals from the ZBA or ARB that he has not agreed with.

“Oversized is a matter of opinion,” he said of Save Sag Harbor’s claims. “I can see their point … [but,] technically, it’s not oversized, per the code.

“It definitely warrants a look at. But I don’t think it’s a runaway train,” he continued. “It’s certainly not a frivolous point they’re bringing up, that’s for sure.”

Mr. Gilbride said that the code does not necessarily need to be rewritten, but new members of the Village Board could take on that task in the coming months after elections take place in the spring if they wish. “We did just do the code a while back,” he said. “I mean, is it time to revisit that again? That is a very lengthy process. Is it necessary? Maybe it is.”

Ms. Young said that village officials should look into the matter, because the community has not rallied together in such a way since Save Sag Harbor was first organized a few years ago, back when a CVS Pharmacy attempted to take up shop on Main Street.

“There’s a pulse there. It’s really struck a chord,” Ms. Young said. “There are people in the village who are responsible for the codes, for their creation and their enforcement. We hope that they will sit down and look at the code and assess, ‘Are these the best codes that we have?’”

She added, “When you have something as wonderful and unique and special as Sag Harbor, you need someone to act as a guardian.”

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