The four candidates seeking two seats on the Village of Sag Harbor Board of Trustees have varied backgrounds and professional experience — an attorney, a real estate agent, a child psychologist and a board veteran with well over a decade of government experience under his belt.
Despite their professional differences, the candidates came together for a group interview on Friday, and appeared to find common ground on issues they believe the village will face in coming years, engaging in an easygoing back-and-forth debate about the future of Sag Harbor.
Robby Stein, a child psychologist and board member for the not-for-profit Save Sag Harbor, believes he brings to the table his willingness to serve the village, not only as a board member, but also as a resident involved in a number of local organizations. A background in human services, and informational technology are other strengths Stein said would serve him well.
“Some of the things I think are different than what has already been done in the village is I have an awareness of health services, which I think is important,” said Stein. “I think it’s important that we get information out there.”
“I have been a zoning and real estate attorney for 15 years,” said Tim Culver, who helped members of the village’s business community review the village’s newly adopted zoning code while it was being revised.
Culver said the technical knowledge that comes with his background would be an asset to the community. Additionally, his ability to facilitate dialogue would be another resource he could draw upon. Culver said his experience building a billion-dollar business would also be an asset.
“Part of government is spending money and knowing how to spend it wisely,” he said.
Incumbent trustee Ed Gregory brings 20 years experience as a board member to the table, having served on the board for close to 15 years in the 1980s and 1990s before taking his seat back on the board in 2003.
“To be honest with you, I have simple aspirations,” said Gregory. “I don’t think in these economic times we can have big plans to do big things.”
In addition to seeking a grant to repair the fence at the Old Burial Ground, Gregory said he would like to see a waterfront walkway in the village completed, as well as an initiative to make the various municipal buildings more sustainable through implementing the results of a Long Island Power Authority energy audit completed last year.
“I work well with others, otherwise I wouldn’t be here for 20 years,” said Gregory.
Real estate agent Jane Holden is a lifelong resident of Sag Harbor, having worked in the village as a real estate agent for 29 years.
She said her background as a paralegal and an appraiser would aid the village should she be elected to the board, particularly on the affordable housing front.
“I also realize what it takes to get people into homes,” she said. “Real estate to me is solving a public need, and I think I can bring something very positive to this board.”
Holden added her experience with National Grid as a member of the board of the nearby Harbor Close Condominiums will be an asset as the village continues a working relationship with the utility over a recently completed remediation project on Long Island Avenue.
Most notably the revision of the village’s zoning code for the commercial portion of Sag Harbor has been a focus of the board of trustees as of late. Part of the impetus for that work was insuring a vibrant business district could be maintained in the village.
“We need to listen to what the business people have to say,” said Holden.
While Culver said he is not sure he agrees entirely with the newly adopted code, he said the village has done a good job in bringing all stakeholders together in an effort to find some sort of consensus.
“I think the vision is for a vibrant, retail space,” said Culver, adding finding a way to keep businesses in Sag Harbor unique – with possibly a focus on art or the environment – could be a way to ensure the business district remains vital.
Gregory countered he was unsure it was government’s role to dictate what should encompass Sag Harbor’s downtown, but agreed the village was unique and that is what makes it special.
“Our role was to pass an updated zoning code that gives the business owners some focus as to what we would like to see in the village,” said Gregory, adding the village has done its best to try and protect existing businesses by legislating a code that will discourage big box stores from coming into the village.
“I think what the zoning code has attempted to do is expedite the process for the village businesses,” said Stein.
Â “I think everyone here agrees we do not want to dictate what businesses are here, but we want to give businesses an opportunity to thrive here,” said Stein later, much to the agreement of all four candidates.
Affordable housing is also at the forefront of all four candidate’s minds, with downtown Sag Harbor continuing to be a place too expensive for many year round residents to afford to live in.
Gregory reminded that his board founded the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust. The fund – which has already been promised $2.5 million should the approved Bulova condos be constructed – Gregory said, would help fund down payments and low interest loans for families seeking affordable housing in the Sag Harbor Union Free School District.
“There are homes available,” said Holden. Holden added the village also needs to look into legalizing accessory apartments, which would enable homeowners to have a second income that would make it financially possible for them to own homes. She cautioned the village against regulating who can rent these accessory units.
Stein agreed there are a number of properties in the village practically tailor-made for apartments with owners who are unable to afford the rising cost of living in Sag Harbor.
“The thing I get nervous about, and I don’t disagree Bulova was a good project, was relying on developers to fund affordable housing can be a dangerous game because you end up in this catch-22,” said Culver. “I think [mayor] Greg [Ferraris] and the board have done a great job trying to explore ways to fund that and it doesn’t take a lot of money to fund.”
Culver and Gregory agreed that prioritizing volunteers, teachers and police was a good goal.
“And it also allows you to negotiate better contracts with your employees,” added Culver, to the agreement of the other candidates. “You can say, ‘Listen, I know the going wage is this, but we can offer you housing.’ So it has an overall positive effect.”
Other projects and issues Holden would like to tackle, if elected, in the next two years include looking at the drainage problem at Havens Beach and seeking to acquire the Long Island Avenue property currently owned by National Grid, which she feels she is equipped to handle. Holden added if the National Grid property is kept a parking lot she would like to see it constructed as a green lot, with plenty of drainage.
Gregory said one of the things he would like to take on is traffic calming around the schools through the Safe Routes to School program. He would like to also see bike paths created around the village as a way to alleviate parking concerns in the downtown. Energy saving, in the municipal buildings in particular, is also a priority.
Culver would like to continue work on the zoning code, and said the village would need to continue to be mindful of the budget.
“I think residents should be proud,” said Culver. “Our neighbors are having issues, but we have kept things pretty tight.”
Culver said he would also like to explore addressing drainage at Havens Beach, and as far as parking goes he would be interested to see if a municipal valet could be a revenue source for the village.
Stein said he would like to tackle a number of those issues, but he would also like to explore affordable ways of increasing health care education for seniors in Sag Harbor by providing a resource through a health care professional to help teach seniors about what their healthcare options are.
Stein said he would like to see the village involved with the myriad of volunteer organizations in attempts to solve issues like greening in the village, bike paths and development issues.
“I think this is a difficult election because this is a body of agreeable people,” said Stein, looking around the table.