The Village of Sag Harbor has been in the throes of a full zoning code revision for over a year now, in part, due to increasing development pressures in what has remained a village with a small town feel, and a mom-and-pop centric downtown.
News broke last summer that pharmacy giant CVS intended to set up shop in the Graphic Arts building, a structure on Long Island Avenue that currently houses 7-Eleven and a cadre of local businesses. As news spread, and in the face of an ongoing affordable housing debate and increased development pressures including several condominium proposals in the village, the trustees moved forward with revisiting village code, which had not been updated since the early 1980s.
A commercial moratorium was put in place, while Sag Harbor planning consultant Rich Warren and village attorney Anthony Tohill, working with trustee Tiffany Scarlato, mayor Greg Ferraris and now planning board chairman Neil Slevin, began researching and discussing the planning materials, zoning law and concepts that would eventually be used to draft the code.
This work product was assembled in what is known as a comprehensive plan, or as Warren has titled Sag Harbor’s document “Planning Strategies for the Incorporated Village of Sag Harbor.”
While the new code was officially proposed this spring, it was not until mid-summer that the comprehensive plan was available for the public. According to Warren, a copy of the plan will be available on the village’s website in the next week.
During zoning code meetings this spring, a number of residents and building owners cited their need to see the comprehensive plan before they could fully digest where changes in the code came from.
While a number of revisions have been made since its debut, and the code is an all-encompassing zoning document, some of the most basic changes it makes include shrinking the boundaries of the village business district to contain just the core commercial downtown district, on primarily Main and Bay streets. An office district has been proposed on the periphery of this downtown village business district, as new office spaces will be prohibited on Main Street. Maximum limits for gross floor areas as well as street or store frontage has also been proposed, as was using the historic district as a legal layer of protection through design standards.
Residents may have expected to see an all-encompassing comprehensive plan as well, despite cautions by Tohill that the comprehensive plan focuses solely on specific concerns raised by the trustees prior to its creation and is not meant to be a complete roadmap on the future of Sag Harbor.
In actuality, the document is almost a paper version of a three-hour presentation Tohill and Warren made almost a year ago, in September of 2007, when the village was just in the beginning of this effort.
The document looks at concerns including the potential for the character of downtown Sag Harbor to change with stores of unexpected size and use, the difficulty of finding affordable housing in the village, maintaining the historic character of Sag Harbor through development controls, handling large development applications, including those for large-scale retail stores and residential developments and whether current village infrastructure can handle such changes. It also addresses the need to protect the waterfront through strategies already outlined in the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP).
As background, the comprehensive plan provides a portrait of what already exists in Sag Harbor from a land-use and demographic perspective. It details the historic district, which is used as a tool to protect the uniqueness of the village in the proposed code — a uniqueness even the Suffolk County Planning Commission noted needs to be protected in a report entitled “Sag Harbor Study and Plan.”
The document outlines several planning studies over the course of the last 40 years that have looked at Sag Harbor, each with specific recommendations and goals. All the studies, notes the comprehensive plan, while diverse in their focus and recommendations ultimately advocate in part for the preservation of Sag Harbor’s unique character.
In May of 2006, the Suffolk County Department of Planning prepared a report entitled, “Shopping Centers and Downtowns, Suffolk County, New York,” which specifically looks at downtown districts.
The comprehensive plan notes that a number of recommendations the study makes are tailored towards protecting downtowns like Sag Harbor, such as focusing on their strengths like architecture and local heritage, and encouragement for retail on the first floor, residences on the second floor — all three concepts outlined in the proposed code.
Allowing larger stores to dominate the marketplace, as opposed to the current landscape of many smaller stores buoyed by larger, key stores like the grocery, hardware and furniture store, could be detrimental to the viability of downtown Sag Harbor warns the study, as it is the diversity of retail uses that draw crowds to Main Streets like Sag Harbor.
The new code attempts to buoy this by prohibiting the conversion of current retail spaces to office spaces. Permitted and special exception uses are redefined to promote retail businesses and restrict the expansion of office uses. A maximum gross floor area and maximum street or store frontage requirement is suggested in the comprehensive plan to ensure Sag Harbor retains the local “small town feel” — a feel most of the studies suggest lend to a viable downtown rather than one having trouble attracting a bounty, and variety, of patrons.