The proposed revisions to the Village of Sag Harbor’s zoning code has not been without controversy, as business and building owners alike have crowded meeting after meeting expressing concern that the changes could have a negative impact on their businesses. In turn, the village has made a number of changes to the planning and zoning document, which at its core, aims to protect the character and historic feel of the village, while also addressing affordable housing and putting measures in place the village hopes will fend off the influx of big box stores into the former whaling village.
But for those attending a special Saturday meeting on the code, it may have been difficult to discern that there was much opposition to the current plan, as virtually every speaker praised Sag Harbor officials for their effort.
On July 12 the village hosted the special work session in order to provide a forum for those residents who are generally unable to attend weekday, night meetings. What they were greeted with was a crowd that stood waiting outside the Municipal Building by 8:30 a.m., steadily growing in numbers until the 9 a.m. meeting commenced.
After a brief introduction to the code, provided by village attorney Anthony Tohill and village environmental consultant Richard Warren, the crowd of over 100 released a torrent of support at Sag Harbor officials, as one-by-one they discussed the code from their perspective.
In a nutshell, the new code proposes to shrink the village business district to encompass primarily Main Street and part of Bay Street, creating an Office District on the periphery, which has shrunk in size after village residents expressed concern about an Office District south of Rector Street off Division Street. The new code also merges the Waterfront and Marine districts, and expands the definitions of uses in the village. Provisions have also been included to eliminate the need for a business or building owner to go through any process for change of use should they be under 3,000 square feet, as long as that use does not change any parking or septic requirements and is permitted under the proposed code. Those businesses over 3,000 square feet would have to go to the planning board for a change of use, as well as site plan approval. An affordable housing plan, and greater guidelines for both the historic preservation and architectural review board and harbor committee are also laid out in the plan.
A comprehensive plan accompanies the document and is expected to be released next week, along with a new draft of the code detailing the number of changes the village has already implemented.
“One is an SUV as you can see, and one is a small trail bike,” joked Tohill comparing the proposed code to the existing code.
Attorney Jeff Bragman, who represents the some 1,500 members of Save Sag Harbor — an organization formed in response to development concerns last year — said he had a message to send from the large constituency Save Sag Harbor represents: the village needs an up-to-date zoning code. The current code was written in 1984.
Bragman said he has been moved watching the process that has unfolded in the last three months as the village has held a number of meetings to hear out resident concerns.
“I can really say after watching this process, come to Sag Harbor, watch how residents govern,” he said. “Come to Sag Harbor and see the law at work and in action … It was real democracy in action and it was quite moving.”
Bragman said Save Sag Harbor agreed with a number of changes, including the exemption for the need of a change of use for businesses under 3,000 square feet. He added they would like to see the village tackle more when it comes to formula stores, but that can be something that occurs down the road.
Bragman said the comprehensive plan need only address the specific goals of the village, adding “if you had to plan for everything before you did anything, you would accomplish nothing.”
He also said any request for a financial impact statement, he believed, was an attempt to derail the process.
David Epstein, a Sag Harbor resident and neighbor to the Glover Street house most recently slated to host a Lionel Ritchie concert — the concert was cancelled after village officials intervened — said he hoped the code would address ensuring commercial properties stay commercial and residential properties stay residential.
Susan Mead, a Texas attorney who now lives in Sag Harbor, said she wanted to ensure a limit of 2,000 square feet for new businesses in the village business district was kept in the proposed code. She also said she believed incentives needed to be developed for affordable housing for apartments on Main Street. Otherwise, she said, they will not be built. Building owner and resident Larry Baum agreed.
Resident Alex McNear commended the board on including a section of the code that addresses affordable housing.
“I do feel that Sag Harbor has been a little behind in this area,” she said, urging the board to ensure solar panels are allowed visibly in non-historic areas of the village.
The village will host another public meeting on the code on Monday, August 4 at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the Municipal Building.
Â Above: Save Sag Harbor vice president Lester Ware speaking to the board of trustee’s at Saturday’s code revision meeting. Middle: Over 100 people packed the Municipal Building to listen to the discussion on Sag Harbor’s new code. (k menu photos)