Express Sessions Panel Explores Need for Comprehensive Plan in Sag Harbor - 27 East

Sag Harbor Express

Express Sessions Panel Explores Need for Comprehensive Plan in Sag Harbor

Blueprint for a Historic Village: Deciding on Sag Harbor’s Future
icon 1 Video & 12 Photos

Blueprint for a Historic Village: Deciding on Sag Harbor’s Future

Panelist, Sag Harbor Village Mayor Tom Gardella, fields a question at the Express Session on November 16.  DANA SHAW

Panelist, Sag Harbor Village Mayor Tom Gardella, fields a question at the Express Session on November 16. DANA SHAW

Panelist Sag Harbor Village Trustee Ed Haye at the Express Session on November 16.  DANA SHAW

Panelist Sag Harbor Village Trustee Ed Haye at the Express Session on November 16. DANA SHAW

Panelist  John Shaka at the Express Session on November 16.  DANA SHAW

Panelist John Shaka at the Express Session on November 16. DANA SHAW

Panelist Nilay Oza, principal of Oza Sabbeth Architects at the Express Session on November 16.  DANA SHAW

Panelist Nilay Oza, principal of Oza Sabbeth Architects at the Express Session on November 16. DANA SHAW

Panelist Susan Mead at the Express Session on November 16.  DANA SHAW

Panelist Susan Mead at the Express Session on November 16. DANA SHAW

April Gornik         DANA SHAW

April Gornik DANA SHAW

Panelist Bob Weinstein of Save Sag Harbor.  DANA SHAW

Panelist Bob Weinstein of Save Sag Harbor. DANA SHAW

Jo Ann Secor               DANA SHAW

Jo Ann Secor DANA SHAW

Panelists Ed Haye, John Shaka and Nilay Oza.  DANA SHAW

Panelists Ed Haye, John Shaka and Nilay Oza. DANA SHAW

Chris Tice     DANA SHAW

Chris Tice DANA SHAW

Jane Holden    DANA SHAW

Jane Holden DANA SHAW

Lee Skolnick                  DANA SHAW

Lee Skolnick DANA SHAW

authorStephen J. Kotz on Nov 21, 2023

Although the Sag Harbor Village Board has yet to begin the formal process of creating a comprehensive plan, the idea that it needs to do so, even as it takes on key planning issues individually, has been a topic of regular discussion in recent years.

With the village facing continued development pressure, increased traffic and water quality concerns, what form a comprehensive plan would take was the topic of “Blueprint for a Historic Village: Deciding Sag Harbor’s Future,” the most recent Express Sessions panel discussion, which took place Thursday, November 16, at the American Hotel in the village.

The panelists included Mayor Tom Gardella, Trustee Ed Haye and Planning Board Chairman John Shaka. They were joined by architect Nilay Oza, attorney Susan Mead and Save Sag Harbor board member Bob Weinstein. The discussion was moderated by the Express News Group’s executive editor, Joseph Shaw.

“We know what the challenges are, and we know from listening to the residents what they’re concerned about,” said Gardella. “So whatever we do in a comprehensive plan has to address those issues. We have to listen to our village residents’ concerns — what they want to keep, what they feel is great about Sag Harbor, and where we can improve.”

The village has undertaken any number of planning studies over the years, but the Planning Strategies report completed in 2008, which focuses on the commercial district, is the closest to a comprehensive plan.

Although Gardella said the village had not formally begun the process, it was already addressing a number of long-range issues. As to when work on the plan itself would begin, he responded, “I would say as soon as we can start it.”

“It’s important that we prepare for the process,” offered Haye, who said the village had already launched the information gathering phase and had to determine how its various review boards would best be able to participate.

Haye said village officials had begun to speak with consultants about how a planning process would work and are seeking funding to pay for it. “All of those things will take a little bit of time,” he said, “and the comprehensive plan itself will probably take a significant amount of time, 18 months or more.”

“I think what a comprehensive plan is, is the vision for the future. So it is as simple as that,” said Shaka. “It’s engaging the community, engaging the business community, the schools and everyone here who’s a stakeholder into what they think we ought to be like 10 years from now, 15 years from now. And that’s the goal: coming up with the vision and then commit with specific ways of keeping that vision over time. It’s as complicated and as simple as that.”

For Oza, a key issue is the time frame of the plan. He pointed out that it was 50 years ago when village leaders began considering ways to have much of the village declared a historic district. “It is that particular decision by those decision-makers that has made the village what it is,” while avoiding the prospect of, say, a strip mall on Main Street, he said.

“A good comprehensive plan is consensus-based,” said Mead, who has experience with them. “In other words, you listen, you hear, and then you work to develop something that won’t satisfy everybody, but has a lot of public input.”

She added that a plan needs to be flexible so it can be updated as goals are met and priorities change. “It’s not a document that’s going to sit on a shelf,” she said. “It’s used by all the boards.”

“A comprehensive plan can’t just be about guardrails or a blueprint for development,” added Weinstein. “It has to be a blueprint for preservation. I think that’s really critical. And when I talk about preservation, of course, closest to my heart is preservation of the historic district. … But it also has to be preservation of our natural resources, of the harbor, of water quality, and I think critically important is a plan for mitigation for whatever effect climate change is going to have.”

Oza also addressed climate change. “We need to think about planning, not with revitalization in mind, but I believe with resilience in mind,” he said.

He cited the chronic flooding of the parking lot behind Main Street and said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts that in the near future, Long Island will experience at least one Superstorm Sandy-level storm every year. “The parking lot is essentially going to be nonfunctional,” he said. “This will continue to happen as time goes on and get worse and worse and worse.”

Mead added that buildings along Main Street already experience regular flooding. “This basement is flooded a lot,” she said of the American Hotel. “The hardware store a lot. The cinema … part of the wonderful smell, the cinema smell, was from flooding. So all the buildings probably from here down are at risk all the time already.” Unless the village put in dry wells and took other measures to divert the water flowing downhill, the problem would only get worse, she added.

Haye said the village, which is completing a sewer master plan, has also begun looking at ways to address stormwater by using properties, including Havens Beach, to help mitigate its impact.

“Those are all projects that have begun by prior mayors that have been led by prior boards that are being updated,” he said, “and we’ll roll them into the overall comprehensive plan once that is pulled together.”

Audience members also chimed in, sometimes with pointed comments that could not necessarily be addressed in a planning study.

“We live in a very extraordinarily unique community, which between May and September becomes vastly different from what we’re used to in the fall, winter and early spring,” said Jo Ann Secor, a 40-year resident of the village. “And I have to say that this summer was a tipping point. We had too many people here — too many rude people — lots of traffic, not being able to find a parking space. And I’m really worried about how do we keep the integrity and the authenticity of this village when we have attracted so many people and they’re not going to stop coming?”

While panelists had no answers for eliminating rudeness, Haye suggested that solving traffic issues, which, he said, had been exacerbated as the village has become “a thoroughfare for people getting other places,” had to be solved on a regional basis.

Chris Tice, a resident of North Haven, pointed to the need for a village comprehensive plan to take into consideration people who don’t live in the village but are part of its broader community. “I work on Main Street,” she said. “My kids went to the school district here. This is my village, too.”

Again, Haye responded. “A lot of the issues we’re addressing do not end at the village boundaries. They’re regional to some extent. So you need to bring in the regional community both for input, support and, frankly, guidance.”

Village resident Jane Holden had a laundry list of specific gripes, starting with a proposal, under preliminary consideration, to construct a traffic circle on Main Street at the entrance to Mashashimuet Park. Why spend money on an idea that failed in the mid-1990s, when other things, such as flooding, need to be addressed first? she asked.

Weinstein tried to steer the conversation back to comprehensive planning, saying it was important to focus on broader concepts that resonate with the community and how they identify with the village. Once that process is begun and a consultant hired, the answers to questions like Holden’s will emerge, he said. “I think that’s the crucial thing to keep remembering. And that’s why a comprehensive plan is important so that you don’t get into a conversation about is a circle appropriate or better for Sag Harbor?”

“What we’ve been talking about is a planning process, and you need the consultant hired because these consultants have been doing this for a living and they know exactly how to run the process,” added Mead. “It’s not the public officials dumping their ideas. It’s a collection of information and it’s listening sessions, and they hear it.”

Shaw asked how the need for affordable housing for the year-round community could be addressed in the comprehensive plan while remaining harmonious to the village.

Gardella said one form of affordable housing in the village has always been multifamily houses. While some remain, many others have been converted back into single-family houses.

“I’ve always said, anything we do, affordable housing-wise, has to fit in the character of the village architecturally, as far as it being a good neighbor to wherever it’s put,” he said. He added that a new village law reducing the required minimum size of affordable accessory apartments to 280 square feet would help. Haye added the village would continue to work with the towns to help provide housing solutions.

Gardella also said that a proposal he aired a year ago to provide some affordable housing as part of the redesign of the emergency services building was moving forward.

Tony Brandt, a former chairman of the Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, cited two issues confronting Sag Harbor that, he said, would make creating a meaningful comprehensive plan difficult. One is traffic; the other, the sheer amount of money chasing property here.

“The traffic comes here as tourists for the most part, and they come on the weekends, and it’s every weekend now, and in the summer it gets to be unbelievably bad,” he said. “And why do they come here? They come here because they have destroyed their own communities and developed them out of control.”

He added that “huge amounts of money are poured into this place, and the development is overwhelming.” People who are enamored of a place for its quaintness and have the money to pay up for property “tend to ruin it,” he added.

You May Also Like:

Mary Kernell Graves of East Hampton Dies June 17

If Mary Kernell Graves, who, at the age of 72, died of an apparent heart ... 20 Jun 2024 by Staff Writer

Sag Harbor Village Police Reports for the Week of June 20

SAG HARBOR VILLAGE — Village Police received a call for a dog running loose on Main Street Saturday night. A small brown dog had gotten away from its owner and was running down the street. Two officers combined to corral the pooch and reunite it with its owner. SAG HARBOR VILLAGE — A Sag Harbor real estate broker was contacted by phone by a caller claiming to be the owner of Bridgehampton residence which, the caller said, they wanted to list for sale with the broker. But when the broker visited the house in Bridgehampton, he was told by its ... 19 Jun 2024 by Staff Writer

Sag Harbor Village DWI for the Week of June 20

Rebecca L. Schwartz, 47, of Sag Harbor was arrested by Sag Harbor Village Police on a misdemeanor DWI charge on Sunday afternoon. Police said that Schwartz, driving a 2017 Jeep Compass, struck two cars with her vehicle while pulling into the Havens Beach parking lot, where she sat for a short time before leaving. Two different witnesses contacted police reporting the incident. Police located Schwartz and the Jeep at the intersection of Hempstead and Hampton Streets and initiated a traffic stop. The arresting officer reported that Schwartz appeared intoxicated and “was unable to perform any of the standardized field sobriety ... by Staff Writer

Sag Harbor Village Police Reports for the Week of June 13

SAG HARBOR VILLAGE — Sag Harbor Village Police arrested Moises Perez Monica, 44, of Springs early Monday morning on a charge of assault in the third degree, a misdemeanor. Officers had been called to a bar on Main Street where a reported fight had taken place. Police spoke with witnesses who pointed out Perez Monica as someone who had gotten into an argument with a female at the bar, then had taken her into the bathroom. At that point, the witnesses said they began hearing the woman screaming in distress. Police spoke with the woman, who said that after Perez ... by Staff Writer

Challengers McMillan, Landis Are Running for Seats on Sagaponack Village Board Against Incumbents Clark and Thayer

In what is something of a rarity, there will be a contested election for two ... by Cailin Riley

Sagaponack Village Mayor Tillotson, Running Unopposed, Throws Support Behind Challengers in Contested Trustees Race

When Sagaponack Village voters go to the polls on June 21, they will be asked ... by Cailin Riley

Promises Kept

News of a link between a cold case 1993 murder in North Sea to the infamous Gilgo Beach serial killer earlier this month left the local community shocked that the heinous killing spree that has made international headlines extended to what was, at the time, a pretty remote corner of Southampton Town. While it doesn’t appear that the murder took place here — prosecutors are speculating that the body of Sandra Costilla was dumped in the woods near Old Fish Cove Road on November 20, 1993, after she was killed elsewhere — the idea that suspected killer Rex Heuermann appears ... by Editorial Board

No Bad Guys

If it’s not too late — though it probably is — it might offer some perspective to remember exactly what the Southampton Town Board decision on June 11, involving Liberty Gardens, really was: The board merely declined to change the existing zoning on a property. It was not a monumental decision in that regard, nor does it bear quite the philosophical significance it has been assigned by the disappointed developer, Concern Housing. It was, in fact, a much less dynamic choice than if the board had voted in favor. Yes, the Town Board had seemed to be moving toward allowing ... by Editorial Board

Trial and Error

Sag Harbor Village officials have a conundrum on their hands when it comes to parking — a small village with limited space, and incredible demand in season — but should get full credit for pursuing some creative strategies to find a workable plan. There are two parts of the problem: How do you manage spaces for visitors and shoppers to be accommodated on a rolling basis throughout the day? And what about all the people who work at village businesses, catering to those visitors and shoppers? Paid parking can be used for the first purpose — the trick is finding ... by Editorial Board

Avlon Amasses More Endorsements as Primary Election Nears

On Friday, one day before the start of early voting for the Democratic Party primary ... by Christopher Walsh