By Stephen J. Kotz
The Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust, which was reinvigorated just last winter, has made the first dent in its efforts to buy affordable housing for an ever growing population that by all accounts is in desperate need of it.
At Tuesday’s Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting, Greg Ferraris, the president of the housing trust and a former village mayor, announced that it had reached a deal to buy for $1.25 million a 2.5-acre parcel known as The Cottages on Route 114 across the street from the Sag Harbor State Golf Course at Barcelona. The property, long used for low-cost rentals, has eight units, Mr. Ferraris told the board.
“There is no other parcel in the school district, or around, that has that type of density available,” Mr. Ferraris said in an interview after the meeting.
He acknowledged that the property is currently used for the very type of affordable housing the trust is trying to provide. “That was a serious topic of consideration for our board,” he said. “We need to address those concerns. We are going to try to do what is best for those individuals.”
Mr. Ferraris added that the trust was in competition with private developers for the property. “If we don’t act now this is not going to be affordable a week, or a month, from now.”
The housing trust was formed in 2008 when Mr. Ferraris was mayor. It got a major boost last winter when the village board, anticipating a $2.54 million payment from Cape Advisors, the developers of the Watchase condominium project, passed a local law allowing money it receives from developers who would otherwise be required to provide on-site affordable housing to go to the trust. In the past, such funds would be directed to East Hampton and Southampton towns for their housing programs.
This spring, the trust undertook a needs assessment study, and what it found was not pretty.
In the past 10 years, the average value of a house on the East Hampton side of Sag Harbor has risen from $650,000 to $1.1 million, while the average value in Southampton has gone from $915,000 to $1.9 million, Mr. Ferraris told the board.
While the trust originally thought about providing financial assistance to those who needed housing, it soon realized “any financial assistance would have little to no impact, so we decided to look at brick and mortar solutions,” Mr. Ferraris said.
A major reason, he said, has been the attractiveness of the Sag Harbor School District
“The success of the Sag Harbor School District has driven up and taken away the inventory that was available,” Mr. Ferraris said, adding that approximately 40 families move into the district each September to send their children to Sag Harbor schools before moving back to their homes in the surrounding areas when school lets out in June.
Mr. Ferraris added that the Bridgehampton National Bank has provided to give the housing trust short-term funding, based on the money it expects to receive from Cape Advisors. He said he expected the trust to close on the purchase by fall, but he stressed that it would exercise due diligence before deciding how to use the property.
The board also received a report from James FitzGerald, the 16-year-old high school student, who has been compiling an inventory of plant and animal life in the Cilli Farm preserve and plans to offer suggestions for the location of future trails across the property.
James told the board that the preserve is home to rare plants—the Eastern birch, for instance—as well as rare animals, the Eastern box turtle. He suggested that a basic network of trails could enter the preserve from Long Island Avenue and radiate through the various parts of the preserve.
Trustee Robby Stein, who has worked with James on the project, said that while there is no current budget for cutting trails or cleaning up the property, which is being choked by invasive species and some garbage, that he would like explore whether the village could apply for some funding from the Southampton Town Community Preservation Fund to help maintain the Cilli Farm.
He added that he would love to see a community organization similar to the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt as well as establish a program with local schools to help clear invasive species from the property.
In other action, the board approved the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s request to hold HarborFest on the weekend of September 13 and 14 with two changes from past years.
The first is that the parking will be provided on field at Havens Beach, with a shuttle bus bringing visitors downtown but stopping at historical sites on their way in and out of the village so people can explore them on their own. The second change is that the chamber plans to host a concert at Havens Beach on Saturday evening of HarborFest weekend.
The board had several minor concerns. Trustee Ed Deyermond said the village should look into requiring higher insurance coverage for such events. “I don’t think it’s a million dollars,” he said. “I think those days are over $2 million.”
Mayor Gilbride also noted that there were complaints during the Chamber’s last sidewalk sale that merchants did not abide by a rule to keep their displays within four feet of the stores.
And Police Chief Tom Fabiano said that the chamber needs to rally its members to help out. He said police and village employees are typically pressed into serve to set up public events. “I think more people need to get involved,” he said.