Express Sessions Panel Ponders Future of Sag Harbor - 27 East

Express Sessions

Express Sessions Panel Ponders Future of Sag Harbor

Downtown Sag Harbor: What's Next?
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Downtown Sag Harbor: What's Next?

Save Sag Harbor Board member Randy Croxton.  DANA SHAW

Save Sag Harbor Board member Randy Croxton. DANA SHAW

President of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce Ellen Dioguardi.    DANA SHAW

President of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce Ellen Dioguardi. DANA SHAW

Save Sag Harbor Board member Randy Croxton.  DANA SHAW

Save Sag Harbor Board member Randy Croxton. DANA SHAW

Jesse Matsuoka the owner of  Sen Restaurant.  DANA SHAW

Jesse Matsuoka the owner of Sen Restaurant. DANA SHAW

Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni.     DANA SHAW

Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni. DANA SHAW

Sag Harbor Village Trustee Bob Plumb.   DANA SHAW

Sag Harbor Village Trustee Bob Plumb. DANA SHAW

Myrna Davis poses a question at the Express Session on Thursday, March 9 at the American Hotel.   DANA SHAW

Myrna Davis poses a question at the Express Session on Thursday, March 9 at the American Hotel. DANA SHAW

Jesse Matsuoka the owner of  Sen Restaurant.  DANA SHAW

Jesse Matsuoka the owner of Sen Restaurant. DANA SHAW

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Jim Larocca.  DANA SHAW

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Jim Larocca. DANA SHAW

The panel during the Express Session on March 9 at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor.  DANA SHAW

The panel during the Express Session on March 9 at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor. DANA SHAW

President of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce Ellen Dioguardi.    DANA SHAW

President of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce Ellen Dioguardi. DANA SHAW

Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni.     DANA SHAW

Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni. DANA SHAW

Sag Harbor Village Trustee Bob Plumb.   DANA SHAW

Sag Harbor Village Trustee Bob Plumb. DANA SHAW

authorStephen J. Kotz on Mar 15, 2023

Development pressure, the need for solid community planning and the absence of workforce housing were all topics that were aired in a wide-ranging Express Sessions panel discussion on the future of Sag Harbor held at the American Hotel on Thursday, March 9.

The panel was made up of Mayor Jim Larocca, Trustee Bob Plumb, Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni, architect and Save Sag Harbor board member Randy Croxton, restaurateur Jesse Matsuoka, and Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce President Ellen Dioguardi. It was moderated by Joseph P. Shaw, the Express News Group’s executive editor.

Asked to name the biggest problem facing the village, Dioguardi cited the need for a labor force to work at village businesses and places for those people to live, but she acknowledged later that the village’s downtown businesses are busy. “Bringing people to Sag Harbor to shop is not the biggest concern right now,” she said.

Matsuoka, an owner of Sen and K Pasa restaurants, said he feared newcomers opening businesses in the village would not understand the complicated relationships that make Sag Harbor work, and he also cited the need to provide workforce housing.

In the past, businesses like his “had many options that were available to us” for housing, Matsuoka said. “Now there are zero options … If you are pulling your staff from Wantagh and have to add to the trade parade, we are only hurting ourselves.”

Plumb said the population density of the village, which is only 2 square miles, would weigh on efforts to provide things like workforce housing. Later, he elaborated on that by suggesting that regional solutions needed to be found for affordable housing.

And Schiavoni agreed, saying he saw a need for continued planning for the broader region, including North Haven and Noyac. The new Community Housing Fund could help the town subsidize and find suitable locations for workforce housing, he added.

For Croxton, the immediate threat is that Local Law 12, which was passed in the summer of 2022 to make it easier to develop affordable housing in the village business and office zones, would undo the protections that were put in place following a 2008 planning study.

“For the past 15 years, we have had a guardian,” he said. “It’s no accident that we still hang on to a lot of that unique character” that makes the village special.

Larocca said he was most concerned about a growing divide in the community between the working-class locals and the more well-heeled newcomers. “There’s a political gap among those communities, and I have not been particularly successful in finding the bridges,” he said.

As an example, he cited the Village Board’s effort to create affordable housing legislation. “The first thing that happened, we got sued,” he said of a lawsuit filed by Save Sag Harbor. “Some of the most privileged people in this community are suing to stop affordable housing. Let’s call it what it is. It’s an assault on affordable housing.”

Croxton insisted that Save Sag Harbor supported the proper placement of affordable housing. He praised a recent proposal put forth by Trustee Tom Gardella to develop a number of affordable units on the site of the firehouse and Highway Department garage.

He stressed that the lawsuit went beyond the issue of affordable housing and was filed because of fears that the law would undo the 2008 protections limiting the size of stores on Main Street. By offering incentives for affordable housing, the village could unwittingly be allowing what “will become a driver of a new Sag Harbor, because there are enormous profit incentives,” he said.

Plumb said he had developed second thoughts about Local Law 12 as well, saying developers would request high-density developments because that was the only way they would be economically feasible. He cited other concerns, such as a provision that would allow developers to provide their own parking plan. “Are you saying someone is going to come here and offer more parking than they need?” he asked.

But he stressed that the law did not grant a developer anything as a matter of right. “It merely allows an application to be filed,” he said.

Larocca, who said Save Sag Harbor had never brought an alternative proposal for housing to the table, surprised some in the audience with is comments about the lawsuit over Local Law 12.

“We are open … to entertain a settlement discussion,” Larocca said, “you know that. If we are all truly trying to achieve affordable housing, would we not find a way to talk to one another outside the courtroom?” The statement drew applause, and a nod of approval from Croxton.

Settlement talk aside, hints of a possible campaign pitting Plumb, who recently announced his intention to run for mayor, against Larocca were also in the air.

Insisting that he was not yet a candidate for reelection as mayor, Larocca said that Plumb was on the committee that drafted Local Law 12, implying that if he had doubts about the law, he should have raised them before it was adopted.

And Plumb pointed out that when Larocca ran for mayor, he campaigned on the need for a villagewide comprehensive plan — a promise, he said, that had been shelved. Plumb added that his suggestion that the Village Board hold a forum to solicit community input on just what should be included in a comprehensive plan had been ignored by Larocca.

At one point, after Plumb said he could see the possibility of new buildings being erected in the business district, provided property owners adhered to zoning rules, Larocca suggested that if Plumb, a semiretired builder, were elected mayor, he would be “the first developer to sit in the mayor’s chair in the modern era.”

“I think, Bob, you need to caution yourself,” he added. “You can’t approach this as you would as a developer, but rather as a public servant.”

“I appreciate your advice, Jim. I’m not here to campaign — I’m here to state my views,” responded Plumb. “I’m not going to get into personality issues.”

The conversation also touched on the problems facing Sag Harbor, an incorporated village, whose authority only extends to the village boundary, despite the fact that many people in the surrounding area think of it as their home.

Matsuoka asked if annexation of some of the surrounding areas was possible, and Myrna Davis, speaking from the audience, touched on the same topic when she said the village was too densely populated to provide much in the way of affordable housing and said the need for housing really needed to be taken up by the Southampton and East Hampton towns.

There seemed to be general agreement on the idea of Southampton Town using Community Preservation Fund money to buy the building at 2 Main Street to demolish it and expand John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, although Matsuoka, who owns K Pasa restaurant in the building, lamented the time and money his family had invested in the place.

Larocca has lobbied for the purchase of the building since Friends of Bay Street purchased the neighboring Water Street Shops building as a future home for Bay Street Theater.

Croxton also spoke in favor of the purchase and razing of the building, which, he said, would open up a broader vista over the waterfront for people on Main Street.

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