John Linder, the chairman of the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), wants to ensure large developments are not railroaded through the Southampton Town planning department without ample public input from town residents, he said during a meeting last Friday.
Linder would like the CAC, a civic organization regulated by Southampton Town, to be allowed to comment on issues like the development of the former Bulova Watchcase Factory, which is located in the Village of Sag Harbor and therefore is not subject to the CAC’s jurisdiction.
To this end, during the committee’s monthly meeting on January 8, Linder suggested the committee focus its efforts on the town’s planning department and board, with hopes of gently expanding the role of CACs in development issues on the East End.
The recommendations followed a meeting with Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne Holst, who will host regular sessions with CAC chairs to take the pulse of the town at large.
“Anna, to her credit, seems to be welcoming and open to all this input,” said Linder. Frank Zappone, Throne-Holst’s deputy supervisor who will oversee the town’s interaction with the CACs, has asked that all CACs come up with a list of issues they would like the town to focus on in the coming year, said Linder.
Linder suggested the CAC concentrate on improving planning and zoning processes in the town by weighing in on developments in their hamlets at the beginning of the process rather than at the end, when changes become more difficult.
“We want to establish a culture that stresses planning over processing,” said Linder, citing the Town of East Hampton’s policy on public input early on in an application as a model for the Town of Southampton.
Linder said he would like to see a member of the board assigned to a geographic area and available to community leaders during the course of an application. He also said he would like to see professional standards set for board members, with performance evaluations and legislation in place that would allow for the removal of a board member if just cause was established.
“I am not sure I like that,” said CAC member Eric Cohen.
Linder also suggested the town re-examine the zoning for each hamlet, using community input, and the establishment of affordable housing guidelines for each community based on the hamlet’s wants and needs. He said there should be a focus on the town’s code enforcement department, and to ensure it is doing its job.
Shana Conron said she believed the Sag Harbor CAC should concentrate its efforts particularly on code enforcement and making changes to the planning process.
“I would rather work on two projects that may become a reality,” she said.
Linder agreed that while the rest of the CACs in Southampton Town may focus on this general list of priorities, he would also like to see Sag Harbor concentrate on code enforcement and development.
“This is a good beginning, because it will create a forum to address these issues,” said Linder. “What I am looking to do with this opportunity is, one, gently expand the CAC border and borderline issues so that, for example, we could get more involved in a project like Bulova; if the hope now is that someone will find new financing and bring a project to Sag Harbor that everyone wanted – one with mixed uses.”
The Sag Harbor CAC opposed the approved, and now stalled, luxury condo project at the historic watchcase factory, hoping for mixed uses at the site as well as affordable housing.
Linder said he would also like to revisit establishing affordable housing on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike, although he admitted that budgetary concerns from the federal government down to the village government could make that project an uphill battle.
“I don’t know how this can happen, but we can at least begin a process,” he said.
In other CAC news, Cohen suggested the committee consider expanding its borders to include members of the Sagaponack community that disbanded their CAC after the hamlet became a village.
“We are called the Sag Harbor CAC, but we don’t really represent Sag Harbor,” said Cohen. “I was thinking we might want to change our name to the South Sag Harbor CAC – we might get more members that way.”
Linder said he would like to reach out to the community first to see if there was interest.
“I don’t know that we need to test this,” said Cohen. “They are unrepresented now, so if they join, great. I think it is really who we represent anyway.”