Letters to the Editor 2/16/12

Posted on 16 February 2012

Dear Bryan,

I have been living on the East End for 25 years (I definitely do not qualify as a local, per se, but a transplant). I have an interesting perspective because I live in Hamptons Bays and operate cafes in the beautiful villages of Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton and Sag Harbor. I have, like most folks, witnessed the changes to the Main Streets in each of these villages during the past two decades. Some of the changes have been favorable and some unfavorable, depending upon who you speak with. At The Golden Pear we serve a blend of both local and summer residents and the local business communities. Over the coffee pots at the cafes we hear all kinds of interesting comments related to a myriad of issues from corporate national brands driving out local businesses to celebrity sightings on our Main Streets. I am fortunate to be able to operate my businesses here on the East End and enjoy my profession as a local business owner/operator.

My perspective is that there are many opposing interests involved in the changes seen on Main Street in Sag Harbor. First and foremost, folks must understand that free market principles are a constitutional right that must be balanced and regulated properly by the elected public officials. Folks need to express their interests and concerns to our elected officials so that they can do what they have been elected to do; represent the people (the residents and local business owners). If the elected officials determine a course of action that represents the folk’s legitimate concerns, that is a good thing and they should pass laws accordingly. However, if a citizen of the United States, with the means to purchase property for investment or residential purposes decides to come to our beautiful, quaint village to make a purchase, set up shop or become a landlord, we can only regulate that activity so much. Otherwise, we are asking our government to interfere in business in ways that may be unconstitutional and establish the initiation of a lawsuit against our government, which may not be a good thing.

Are rents increasing in Sag Harbor making it very difficult for locally owned and operated businesses to continue to make a profit? Absolutely! I for one am very concerned about the per square foot rent amount currently fluctuating and increasing on Main Street and Bay Street. However, there is a reason for this; the basic economic rule of supply and demand. Sag Harbor’s charm, history, beauty, culture and deep water access attracts folks from New York City, the surrounding metro area and from other ports of call. The demand for goods and services from the local and non-local folks has increased in Sag Harbor over the past 10 years. This “market” of customers is more affluent than ever (whether you like them or not), and they come to Sag Harbor and spend their hard earned dollars on Main Street and in the surrounding community. Has the number of visitors increased over the past 10 years? Probably. Has the average home value increased? Definitely. Have people sold their homes and buildings in Sag Harbor to “cash in” on these increases? Absolutely. And when an investor has paid a high price at the tail end the last real estate boom, will they try to get as much rent as possible? Of course. All of the villages on the East End have gone through very similar transactions and fluctuations over the past two decades. It has been a challenging time for locally owned and operated businesses, but we must persevere in our efforts to be successful at operating our businesses and preserve the culture of Main Street.

Our elected officials should be made aware of our concerns and act responsibly to preserve and protect our beautiful, historic buildings and warm, hospitable culture. Folks need to get involved by writing to our elected officials, attend relevant village board meetings, join the Chamber of Commerce, join SaveSagHarbor and write to The Sag Harbor Express. Local business owners have to be more savvy and try to negotiate better terms for their leases and determine what goods and services they can offer to make up for lost revenues to newer businesses and popular trends so they can remain here in Sag Harbor. I do not believe the village board’s powers should be expanded to include the approval of every business in Sag Harbor and the terms of their leases and rents. Although, they should be empowered to keep national, big box type stores out of our village, because those companies have an unfair advantage over the smaller, independent businesses that make Sag Harbor a great village. When a CVS purchases 5,000,000 bottles of shampoo and can sell them for much less than the local guy/gal who buys 500 a year, this is unfair and the local guy/gal needs some protection. The free market will correct any drastic spikes in rents and cycles of real estate and economic activities will affect the market going forward. We’re all in this together, so let’s keep the discussion and influence to our elected officials current and constitutional. Best wishes to all my fellow business operators and residents of Sag Harbor.

Keith Davis, Proprietor

The Golden Pear Cafes

Dear Editor:

Where Do I See Sag Harbor in the Next 10 Years?

Ten years ago we were just recovering from 9/11; in between we have experienced two wars, a housing boom and bust, and the Great Recession. Much can happen in 10 years but, as a new resident, here are a few hopes/predictions:

The Bulova Factory development will define the look of Main Street, substantially add to the tax base, and lead a recovery of the Village property market

•            Long Wharf will be acquired by the Village and support the growth of a luxury yachting center on the East End

•            Sag Harbor’s cultural position in the Hamptons will be stronger as a result of a long term solution to the location of the Bay Street Theatre, ideally including that other local icon, Sag Harbor Cinema.

•            The redeveloped John Jermain Library will confirm the Village’s historical role as a center of literature in the region

•            A refurbished American Hotel, without losing any of its charm, will become one of the Best Small Hotels in North America

To sum up, within 10 years, Sag Harbor will become one of the most desirable communities in which to live in the State of New York.

Geoffrey Milton

Sag Harbor

Dear Bryan,

When I decided to run for Trustee three years ago I had been thinking about what Sag Harbor might look like in the future. Considering that we have a mile square Village with a diverse and active population we should be able grow in a direction that reflects the balance of our community’s interest. When I began the project I thought about Sag Harbor like an English Garden that takes years to reach its full shape. It was a 50-year view but I guess it could be accelerated into a 10-year vision. At the time as an exercise I constructed my own “White Paper” to categorize areas I needed to learn more about, and explored specific areas that might need attention and development. I divided them as follows:

  • Infrastructure
  • Communication and education
  • Zoning
  • Housing
  • Business District
  • Traffic and Parking
  • Environmental impact
  • Health and Education
  • Environment
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Fire, Ambulance, and Police
  • Volunteer Agencies

The waterfront and its health is key to the well being of the Village. Because of this we can’t separate wastewater management, wetlands, and runoff. Increased incentives to reestablish tidal wetlands such as encouraging native plants along the shore, organic control of nitrogen runoff into the harbor, and the gradual upgrading of septic systems could be matter of fact a decade from now. Oyster beds will be dotted all through the coves and harbor, and as the eel grass returns so will the scallops. As road surfaces are replaced new technologies will increase the absorption of storm runoff. Perhaps fishermen will line up along the bridge as they did when I was a child as aquatic life returns.

An improved Village website and mailing list will create easier access to the Village Hall. Information and links to volunteer community organizations will be easily accessed. Updated information on healthcare benefits such as Medicare and preventive medicine seminars will be linked to the website. There will be downloads for maps and walks throughout Sag Harbor showing a series of walkways and bike paths. These maps will stretch from the Long Pond Greenbelt, through Mashashimuet Park, along a guided walk through the Historic District. It will wend its way through the Cilli Farm open space and nature trail into the railway path and connect up with a waterfront tour eventually ending at Havens Beach. The walks, bike routes, recreational areas, museums and parks will grow in both use and public awareness. The library will grow into an educational hub and resource for a rising year round population. Pierson will have established their Baccalaureate Program and students will have new choices of universities and scholarship.

The residents of the Bulova building and the increased retirement of second homeowners into the village will support shoppers in the business district. Safe bike routes throughout the village will encourage shared roadways and alternative transportation. A water taxi and improved county busses will link the Peconic towns of both the South and North Forks. Valet parking will begin to appear in the evenings during the summer months.

Bay Street Theater will develop into a performing Arts Center and Community Center. The programming will extend year round to include dance, music festivals, a wildlife film festival, a fringe theater festival, WPBB, and a writing/reading room.

The historic architecture of the village will stay intact but buildings will begin to incorporate new green technologies to reduce energy cost. Solar, wind and tidal generators will lay the seeds to the village forming its own power grid. The streets bordering the parking lot that runs behind the cinema will develop into a village square that will complement Long Wharf and Main Street. The informed plantings of variant species small trees will have grown and be diverse enough to resist beetle and disease invasions while providing more green foliage. Recycling will begin to be second nature to us and our consciousness about re-use will reflect the times, in a similar way that littering once prevalent throughout the countryside once was but has now nearly vanished.

The ambulance corps will incorporate new technologies and skilled training methods in urgent response crises. Careful planning and budgeting of the fire department will bring equipment into a single standard and upgraded, while trucks are refitted to control costs.

Housing will be readdressed throughout the village to once again consider the creation of two-family residences, auxiliary apartments and detached apartments will come into safety requirements, as affordability and work-force housing grows in importance.

All in all the same issues that exist today will continue 10 years from now, some will be moved forward some will linger in an unresolved limbo. Art versus architecture will continue to be debated, but in general I believe the village will continue to move toward being a vibrant hub of diversity in the make-up of its population and of ideas. Shops will continue to rotate owners and merchandise but Sag Harbor will remain unique on the East End as a community, creative and resistant to the forces that have turned so many Main Streets around the world into look alike clones of one another.

And finally if you wander down Main Street at 7a.m. the flowers will continue to be watered on the lampposts, the streets and sidewalks cleaned, the garbage removed, and the stage will be set for the day to begin by those most of us never see after 8 a.m.

Robby Stein

Sag Harbor

Dear Editor:

When I arrived in beautiful downtown Sag Harbor in November of 1948 the defense oriented manufacturing was over. Bulova was not making bomb sight parts. Agawam Aircraft was not producing parts for Grumman Aircraft and Eaton Engraving was no longer engraving reticles for the U.S. Navy. Our 1940s industrial revolution was over. Things were not good in town.

After a few years things came back to life and we experienced another industrial spurt. Our factories all became busy. Agawam was bought by Grumman, Bulova was busy making watch cases and two new facilities came on the scene: Sag Harbor Industries which made electronic coils and Rowe Industries who made hundreds of thousands of miniature electric motors. There were about 750 employees in our plants..

Things were good in our little blue collar village.

Whoa!, because of a series of mergers, acquistions and unionizations we lost most of our factories.

Through the formation of The Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce we went tourist.

The Whalers Festival, with local resident and friend John Steinbeck as its honorary chairman, became world famous.

During this period, Bulova was put on the market. Thirty years later (last year), after many trials and tribulations, it is now in the process of a massive rehab job by Cape Advisors. This is going to be a part of our future.

This is the future of Sag Harbor: second home-owners and we have become a tourist destination.

We now have HarborFrost in February and in the fall we celebrate HarborFest. Sag Harbor is in good shape and we are looking forward to our future.

We came up with a bumpersticker many years ago. Its message: “Do It In Sag Harbor.” You should.

Dave Lee

Sag Harbor

Dear Editor,

In response to your previous survey, I focused on the possible Bay Street Theatre – Pierson merger as a means to sustain the more intellectual and art-oriented status Sag Harbor has achieved over the years.

As far as the obvious, hopefully temporary, change the Sag Harbor retail community is facing, I perceive two main reasons: First and foremost the country’s general economic dilemma, secondly the inflationary raising of rents by greedy landlords (see Bay Street), resulting in a negative chain reaction harmful to the whole town. The wise choice would be to lower rents to attract more retail, thereby avoiding the influx of mega food and department stores already waiting in the wings. In short: I certainly don’t like this change and cannot believe anybody else could possibly do so. But I sincerely hope for a positive change in the end, of course only achievable with the help of the wealthiest in our midst, willing (and certainly able) to overcome their greed, thus furthering job-creating establishments. This, in turn, would result in an uphill chain reaction towards a balanced and healthy economy.

Wishfully thinking,

Barbara Lipman-Wulf

Sag Harbor

To the Editor,

It is so good that you have sent out a questionnaire requesting local residents’ responses. As a close neighbor to the Harbor Heights service station, on Route 114, I was disappointed that you didn’t mention [Editorial, “Birds of a Feather,” Sag Harbor Express, February 2, 2012] any of the physical renovations, Bulova Watchcase, Harbor Heights, the Library expansion, all of which affect the appearance and the quality of life in Sag Harbor.

I was not able to be in Sag Harbor last Tuesday for the Planning Board meeting about Harbor Heights. There is so much incorrect information about that project, that tries to disguise its size and true impact on my immediate neighborhood. Richard Warren has approved of the project as being a positive addition to the Village. This is a disgrace. It’s the currently accepted “GREED IS GOOD” that so many village property owners are in favor of.

In the January 26th issue, “Letters to the Editor,” Alison Bond writes about the removal of approximately 18 mature trees by the new owner of 36 Oakland. “It appears unlikely that the Village received her application for A Certificate of Appropriateness, as is customary for any property within the Historic District (see Village Codes Section #300-13.4 and #300.16)”

Is anyone in the current Village administration interested in preserving and maintaining the historic beauty of Sag Harbor? Surely, there should be several architects on the Architectural and Historical Review Board, not people who could possibly consider the 8 pump, 20 ft high, 24 ft x 102 ft canopy with enormous lights an appropriate addition to the historical neighborhood.

In your editorial you mention partnership and cooperation. You mention the need “to rally around community.” You end by saying “Community matters. So let’s make sure that it’s the people of Sag Harbor who, in the end, will decide what this place will be.”

Many of us are very concerned about what’s happening to Sag Harbor. We question so much of what is considered ‘appropriate’ by the various village boards. Richard Warren’s verdict (that this totally out of scale highway-size service station which will disturb so many of us, and create too much traffic and late evening noise and congestion,) is a good thing for Sag Harbor, is difficult to accept and is strongly questioned by many of us.

Elinor Spalten

Sag Harbor

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