Just a handful of residents in a crowded Sag Harbor Planning Board meeting Tuesday night offered suggestions to the board about John Jermain Memorial Library’s plan to double the size of its historic Main Street structure, with parking the main issue of debate.
On Tuesday, April 27 the board held a special public session on JJML’s plans to restore and expand its Main Street location — the goal not to debate the project’s merits, but rather give the public the chance to tell the planning board what they would like to see the village review about the project.
After years, and several revisions, residents of the Sag Harbor school district approved close to $10 million in funding last summer for a 7,725 square-foot expansion of the 7,084 square foot library, twwhich will be developed at the library’s current site. The three-story, modern addition, made of glass, masonry and stainless steel is proposed to wrap around the rear of the building, in what architects describe as a chevron shape.
Seemingly anticipating that parking and traffic would be the issue of the hour, after a brief presentation on the architectural style of the addition by architect Richard Munday, the library’s environmental planner David Emilita walked the crowd of 60 residents through their parking plan.
Sag Harbor Village’s zoning code’s formula for determining the amount of parking needed at the library uses the floor area devoted to seating, the floor area devoted to books and how many employees the library has on staff. Emilita said the existing library, under that formula would need 56 spaces.
“Of course, as you know, there are none,” he said. “Potentially a big problem.”
The expansion would necessitate an additional 28 spaces for a grand total of 84 parking spaces, said Emilita. However, using a standard method for parking calculations – outlined in a manual published by the Institute of Traffic Engineers – the library would only need 61 parking spaces and after conducting its own surveys at JJML, Emilita believes they need even less.
Based on surveys conducted in 2003 and 2009, Emilita said the number of patrons that come to the library by car has dropped by two-thirds in the last six years, and the number of patrons that bike to JJML has more than doubled.
“We see today that in 2009, one-third of library patrons get to the library, but they are not seeking parking,” said Emilita. He added, two-thirds of library patrons are not just visiting JJML when they come to the village, but also attending to other business in Sag Harbor.
Based on a peak traffic analysis conducted Labor Day weekend last year, Emilita said a survey of public parking in a two-to-three block radius, or 800-feet, around JJML showed two-thirds of parking spaces were vacant. While the spaces are not officially striped for parking, Emilita said his team has surveyed the area and found there are 231 parking spaces within walking distance to JJML. Emilita added, accounting for public activities in the neighborhood, as well as fire hydrant areas, houses that require on-street parking and driveways, his team estimates there would be 112 vacant spaces at peak hours around the existing library.
“Having done all that analysis, I believe the library expansion can take place with some sort of striping program to be implemented and we will explore that with the village,” said Emilita.
Sag Harbor resident Jim Posner was not swayed by Emilita’s figures.
“I think it is sort of an insult to the population that we can say in reality that there is parking when there is no parking,” said Posner.
Posner argued that 50 percent of JJML patrons are from outside of the Village of Sag Harbor, and require parking when they come to the library. He also said that libraries in Hampton Bays, Southampton and Riverhead all have dedicated parking outside of their building “in a civilized way.”
Gigi Morris, who lives on Main Street just a block from the library, disagreed with Posner’s assessment. Remembering an early meeting about the addition, held at the library to a standing room only crowd, Morris said there was not a single car parked in front of her house that evening.
“I almost have never had a car parked in front of my house for something happening at the library,” said Morris.
A member of the 725-GREEN movement, which just brought in Project for Public Spaces to Sag Harbor, Morris said parking should not be the focus of the library’s expansion plan and that organization would agree.
“They would say quite adamantly, when you plan for parking you lose every vision of making it a place you want to be,” she said. “As they said to me, you have to get your mind out of the gutter, and if you create a place, a place people want to be, where they can go to the library, the museums, the village, they will find a way to go there.”
Mac Griswold, another Sag Harbor resident, said she wondered if the planners and architects could illuminate the public on safety measures for parking around the library.
“The perception there isn’t enough parking arises from the safety of the parking,” she said.
Outside of parking, there was a lone comment from the person likely most affected by the library’s expansion plan — neighbor Ann Costaldo, whose Jefferson Street home would sit directly behind the new addition. Costaldo had remained mum on the project until Tuesday night.
“What has me really baffled by the whole thing is they are going to squeeze this on a little property when there is a perfectly good building next door,” said Costaldo, referring to the former Morpurgo property directly behind the library on Union Street, which has been shuttered since its court-mandated sale.
Costaldo said the library should spend an additional $1 million to $2 million to buy that property and erect the addition there – an idea floated years ago, which led to litigation that continues to this day by the former owner of the property, Anselm Morpurgo.
“It’s a danger to the community,” said Costaldo of the Morpurgo property. “Why couldn’t they just raze that building and use that for the library? Can anyone answer me?”