The growing revelation that one development group, Friends of Bay Street, is attempting to secure ownership of a vast array of properties in the waterfront area of Sag Harbor is extremely unsettling. What initially appeared to be a benign project that would allow Bay Street Theater to remain in the village by relocating to a new permanent home now appears to be just the first puzzle piece in a picture that is shrouded in mystery.
I am not in any way questioning the legal right of an individual or group to purchase whatever they choose. Free enterprise is a cornerstone of a democratic society. However, the secretive manner by which this process has unfolded is especially troubling. Clearly, there are business-related considerations that would cause a potential buyer to lay low when negotiating a deal. But, in this instance, these tactics are greatly overshadowed by the interests of the residents of Sag Harbor in protecting and enhancing the integrity of their home.
In our system, the tools that we have to guide property owners in the furthering of our community’s interest are a combination of public meetings and regulations. With such enormous imminent impact to the character of our waterfront district at stake because of the scale of land acquisition contemplated, nothing short of a Comprehensive Waterfront Master Plan is needed. While the trustees have recognized the need and begun to address it, a full-fledged Master Plan must be crafted and implemented immediately.
This plan would examine issues ranging from traffic patterns, parking and environmental sustainability, to the spectrum of appropriate uses (residential, retail, cultural, etc.) and the scale, massing and materiality of any new construction. Such a study is absolutely common and there is ample documentation of its advantages in helping to ensure that the positive nature of responsible and carefully considered cultural and commercial development is realized. And, we must have these aids to the evaluation of any real estate development in place before entertaining any new proposals.
The potential impact occasioned by the Friends’ actual and further contemplated acquisitions must be tempered by open public discourse and a set of guidelines and a vision that put the future of our village in the hands of its citizens.
Lee H. Skolnick, FAIA
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