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Morpurgo House Awaits a White Knight

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Heller_Morpurgo House 10-8-14_7534_LR

The Morpurgo house on Union Street in Sag Harbor. Michael Heller

By Stephen J. Kotz

It sits forlorn and forgotten, obscured by overgrown shrubs and weeds, barely visible from the street.

Long declared unfit for human habitation by Sag Harbor Village, the Morpurgo house, which is tucked behind the John Jermain Memorial Library on Union Street, may be the closest thing Sag Harbor has to a haunted house.

The subject of a decades-long fight between sisters Anselm and Helga Morpurgo, the house was eventually sold at auction in 2007. But it then became entangled in a nightmarish mortgage fraud scheme that landed former Suffolk County Legislator George O. Guldi in prison, and the man who held an $800,000 mortgage for the property, trying to foreclose on it, so he and his investors could obtain the deed to the house and either rebuild it or raze it and start anew.

But this week, Samuel Glass, a Brooklyn attorney, who led that group of investors, said, he has washed his hands of the place and sold the mortgage to another New York attorney, Joel Zweig, who is leading yet another investor group in the effort to realize a profit from it.

“I loved that piece of property,” Mr. Glass said on Friday. “But I was dealing with 13 investors and after awhile, they got disgusted. We got caught in the maze.”

Mr. Glass, who said he believed Sag Harbor was still a good place for real estate investors to put their money, said “I would have loved to have taken title to that place.”

He said at this point, the house, because of its dilapidated condition, was probably a teardown, but he said if the new owners work with the village, they will be able to build “a beautiful house next to the library.”

Mr. Zweig was unavailable for comment for this article.

Despite the legal troubles swirling around the house, the question remains why Sag Harbor Village has taken a hands-off approach to the property.

The most recent entry from village officials in a file on the property in the village Building Department dates to February 16, 2007, when Anselm Morpurgo still lived there.

In a five-page report then Fire Marshal Tim Platt, who toured the house with Al Daniels, who was the building inspector at the time, pointed out numerous health and safety concerns, from a wood burning stove with a large gap in its flue, to structurally unsound stairways, crumbling plaster, and missing window panes.

In his own letter to the village board accompanying that report, Mr. Daniels cites. His own list of concerns, including the fact that the interior of the building was colder than the outside temperature, which was only 16 degrees on the day of the visit. He listed the elecrical wiring, water supply as concerns and added that the house was strewn with garbage and raccoon feces.

“Obviously, there are pictures showing the dangerous and unsafe conditions that exist in this structure,” Mr. Daniels wrote. “The rodent infestation presents a danger to the health, safety, morals and general welfare of the public and the people that occupy this structure. This structure is definitely unfit for the purpose for which it may be lawfully be used.

“In closing, this building is unsafe, dangerous and beyond repair,” he concluded.

On Tuesday, building inspector Jose Escalante, who joined the village in the summer, and has been dealing with a building boom that includes major renovations and new construction across the village, said he had not received any complaints about the Morpurgo house and did not believe it was in his authority to launch an investigation on his own.

Mayor Brian Gilbride conceded that the village has taken a cautious approach in large part because it is concerned about liability.

“The frustrating part about this job is you can walk by that place and say it is terrible, but it is private property,” he said.

He pointed out that the property has been owned by a series of limited liability corporations. “Are they taking any personal liability? No,” he said. “But the minute we start doing something to that property, we become part of the liability.”

“I always thought the library was going to end up with it, and it would become a moot issue,” he added. In the 1990s, the library board tried to purchase the property to expand, but Anselm Morpurgo resisted its efforts. The library eventually abandoned the idea and turned its attention first to a new site next to Mashashimuet Park before settling on a major expansion and renovation of its existing building.

In the meantime,  Anselm Morpurgo’s sister, Helga Morpurgo, tried to force her sister to sell the property, in which they had a shared ownership. That battle eventually ended with a court-ordered auction of the property in 2007 for $1.4 million.

Mr. Glass said that he was defrauded by two attorneys, Brandon Lisi of Dix Hills, and Dustin Dente of Rosalyn, who bought the property at auction and came to him for financing and then stopped paying the mortgage. He and his investors have sought to foreclose on the property in state Supreme Court, but that proceeding will now be turned over to Mr. Zweig’s group.

Mr. Guldi, who was Mr. Lisi’s attorney for the purchase of the property, was found guilty of mortgage fraud in 2011 in what Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota desribed as the largest case of mortgage fraud in the county’s history. He was  sentenced to four to 12 years in prison.

Just last month, Mr. Guldi’s request for parole was denied. The parole board, which heard his case, concluded that he showed a lack of remorse for his crimes, which could lead to him being a repeat offender. He can next apply for parole in 2016.


Village Revokes Page Outdoor Dining License

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Staff members clear tables and chairs from in front of Page at 63 Main after the Sag Harbor Village Board revoked the restaurant's outdoor dining license on Friday. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

Staff members clear tables and chairs from in front of Page at 63 Main after the Sag Harbor Village Board revoked the restaurant’s outdoor dining license on Friday. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

By Stephen J. Kotz

After a month of behind-the-scenes wrangling over unapproved renovations made at Page at 63 Main, the Sag Harbor Village Board pounced on Friday, July 18, revoking the restaurant’s license for outdoor dining on Main Street.

The village took the action even after one of the restaurant’s attorneys, Dennis Downes said losing the option to offer outdoor dining would cost the restaurant between $7,500 and $10,000 a day and even jeopardize its ability to stay in business.

In an 11th hour bid to appease the village, Mr. Downes said Page’s owners had offered to immediately shut down their Back Page café, behind the main restaurant, until zoning and fire code violations there were rectified and a site-plan issued for the property.

Mr. Downes conceded that mistakes had been made, but said the restaurant had been held up during the planning process and had to do the work before approvals were in hand to be ready for the summer season.

“Without those seats, there is a lot of money being lost,” he said of the outdoor dining. “It could be the difference between being able to stay alive in the winter where there are less people out here.”

But the board would not be swayed. “We’re here talking because when there was a suspension… the right thing would have been to remove the tables and chairs and let’s get to the bottom of this,” Mayor Brian Gilbride said.

He referred to an action taken by building inspector Tim Platt, who had cited the business for doing the renovation work with neither a site plan approval nor a building permit and had ordered it to suspend its outdoor dining service until the charges were sorted out. Instead, he said, the restaurant’s owners “thumbed their nose” at the village.

The board’s action clearly got the restaurant owners’ attention. A few minutes after it revoked the license, and Page’s owners and managers left the Municipal Building grumbling among themselves, waiters and busboys were scurrying about, clearing the tables and chairs from in front of the restaurant before the evening’s dinner rush.

On Tuesday, Mr. Downes, and Tom Horn, another attorney for the restaurant, were in Sag Harbor Village Justice Court for an initial appearance on the restaurant’s behalf. Village Justice Andrea Schiavoni said she would have to recuse herself from hearing the case because of a relationship with one of the restaurant’s owners and adjourned the case until August.

Speaking outside the courtroom, Mr. Horn, who said he had only had time to quickly review the charges against the restaurant, nonetheless expressed confidence it would prevail in court. “I think the charges are technically flawed and actually flawed,” Mr. Horn said, “and I say that based on my 11 years’ experience as a fire marshal.” Before becoming an attorney, Mr. Horn was a fire marshal for East Hampton Town.

The restaurant’s saga took another turn on Tuesday night when Mr. Downes, and Gerard Wawryk, one of its owners, appeared before the Planning Board, trying to straighten out the confusion over the restaurant’s renovation project, which was undertaken this spring.

The key issues revolved around changes to the proposed site plan for the dining area now known as the Back Page Café. At a June 26 village board meeting, then-planning board chairman Neil Slevin said the restaurant had done work that planners had not intended.

That included moving without permission the location of an enclosure that would allow it to keep its dumpsters refrigerated as well as the replacement of a grass waiting area with a bluestone patio.

One of the village’s attorneys, Denise Schoen, said that the wooden Dumpster building, which had been placed next to a fence beside Murph’s Backstreet Tavern and connected to the electric service, posed a fire hazard, a charge the restaurant’s owners denied.

Ms. Schoen added that the Back Page had originally been presented as a waiting area, where restaurant patrons could enjoy a drink or hors d’oeuvres while waiting for a table inside, but had, in fact, been turned into an outdoor expansion of the restaurant.

Mr. Downes has said the planning board approved the changes when it accepted a new survey of the site last winter, but board members said it was an oversight.

Despite the disagreement, planning board members were amenable to tweaking the site plan for the Back Page and said they would okay the bluestone patio even though it would exceed the allowable lot coverage because it was served by sufficient drainage.

But planners said they would not allow the dumpster enclosure to remain in its current location because it effectively eliminated the restaurant’s driveway and prevented delivery trucks from backing in off the street, forcing them to instead block one lane of traffic on Division Street.

On Tuesday, Mr. Wawryk offered to remove the dumpster building and replace it with two smaller enclosures that would be set back on either side of the driveway farther from Division Street to provide space for delivery trucks.

Planners said they would send a memo supporting the changes to the village Zoning Board of Appeals, which has held off on a decision on the restaurant’s application for variances, pending a resolution of the site plan issues.

At last week’s special meeting, when the board informed Page’s owners that it was considering revoking the restaurant’s outdoor dining privilege, Mr. Downes tried at first to argue that it was “a was “a valuable property right” that the village could not revoke without “due process.”

Village attorney Fred W. Thiele Jr. called those charges “ludicrous,” adding that the village only charged $100 for a license and said if outdoor seats were as valuable as Mr. Downes said they were, the village should be charging more. “It’s a privilege to use public property for a private use,” Mr. Thiele said.

Sag Harbor Parents Express Safety Concerns Over Pick up and Drop off at Pierson Middle/High School

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By Tessa Raebeck

Last Friday afternoon at the end of the school day, Dr. Carl Bonuso was on Division Street waiting to make a left turn into the Pierson Middle/High School parking lot, with his left signal blinking. A Mini Cooper came behind him, swerved to the left and illegally passed Dr. Bonuso, interim superintendent of the Sag Harbor School District.

Several Pierson parents have expressed concern over such incidents during pick up and drop off at the school’s southern entrance, saying poor design, lack of supervising personnel and drivers’ rush to get kids to school combine for a haphazard and potentially dangerous scenario.

“I’m a parent, not an expert,” said Robbie Vorhaus, who has had two children attend Pierson — one is now in college and the other is still a student at the school. “But I’m still very much aware of the fact that there is a very flagrant potential safety hazard that’s been going on for a long time. And it would seem as though the police department would want to work with the school to prevent something horrible from happening.”

During the morning drop off, parents circle around the Division Street parking lot loop, dropping kids off at a curb by the entrance. Principal Jeff Nichols and other administrators are often present to move traffic along the curb.

John Ali, a Pierson security officer, monitors the buses and is positioned at the Marsden Street intersection in the afternoon. The buses park south of the intersection on Division Street and exit down Marsden Street. Cars line up down Marsden Street, despite a No Standing sign, and up and down Division Street.

During the morning, drivers pull around the loop to drop their kids off; cars approach the parking lot entrance from all directions. The four-way traffic created by the intersection is about 20 feet from the three-way traffic created by the lot entrance.

“There are different problems in the morning than in the afternoon,” Vorhaus said.

In the afternoon, students must find the car picking them up. If it hasn’t yet pulled into the loop, kids often go down the road in search of it.

On Friday afternoon, in addition to directing the intersection, there were students to be monitored. On the loop, a student on a razor scooter had to be directed to stay out of the road. A girl in a red jacket ran across the street, dropping a cup in the middle of the road and stooping to pick it up. During both pick up and drop off, which lasts about 20 minutes each, several cars ran the three stop signs at the Marsden Street intersection.

“It was absolute mayhem there today,” Vorhaus said Tuesday, speaking of the afternoon pick up, which came early due to inclement weather. “With the snow and the early pick up, there were more people and there was nobody there [aside from Ali]. There was no other public safety officer anywhere to be seen.”

Dr. Bonuso said Monday the school is hoping to implement several practical safety changes when the parking lots are renovated as part of the district bond capital projects.

“We’ve also in our school and community meetings talked about the details regarding the design for the parking lot,” he said Tuesday. “One of the things we’re tossing around is whether or not we could expand that curb length, so that people could pull up much further and [thus] not have as much of a line of people spilling out into the street.”

“And of course,” he added, “we also welcome working with and partnering with the village.”

“The answer is,” Vorhaus said Tuesday, “that the police department — as in any other community — works in cooperation with the school and puts either a patrol officer or a safety officer, certainly, at the corner of Division and Jermain.”

Although that intersection is priority, Vorhaus would also like to see a second officer at the northern intersection of Division Street and Marsden Street, especially during pick up.

Dr. Bonuso said he would welcome it if the village’s traffic experts spoke with the district’s architecture firm, BBS Architecture, “to get a sense of traffic flow and what the best design is both from the school’s perspective and the village’s perspective. We absolutely welcome having both the village and school share as much information and expertise as is available.”

“Honestly, I think that’s a school issue,” Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride said Tuesday, adding that he sometimes accompanies his son to drop off his grandson.

Mayor Gilbride said there is a Traffic Control Officer (TCO) at the Sag Harbor Elementary School’s Route 114 entrance “who does an excellent job.”

Sag Harbor Police Chief Tom Fabiano said Tuesday he could not comment because he is unaware of the problem, but anyone with concerns should come to him to discuss a possible solution.


In Sag Harbor, A Priority of Public Projects for 2014

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By Kathryn G. Menu

In its last meeting for 2013, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees met in special session Thursday afternoon to talk about a list of village projects that are coming into focus for 2014.

Repairs to Long Wharf, upgrading the Municipal Building with an elevator that would allow access to the long-vacant third and fourth floors of that Main Street building, and constructing a helipad at Havens Beach for emergency service use were three projects village board members debated Thursday.

At the close of the session, board members passed a resolution to get estimates on the cost of all three projects.

While board members agreed all three projects were worth looking at, at the start of the session, with just Mayor Brian Gilbride, Trustee Ken O’Donnell and Trustee Robby Stein in attendance, there was division on how a project like Long Wharf — a project that likely comes with a hefty price tag — should be funded.

“My feeling is we should bond it and do it all at once,” said O’Donnell.

Stein agreed, noting that village treasurer Eileen Tuohy has advised trustees interest rates are historically low, making it desirable to bond for a project of this size.

And sizable it will likely be.

While the village board will now await an updated survey detailing the repair and maintenance needs of Long Wharf, it has been several years since anything outside of annual maintenance performed by village crews has been completed on the aging facility.

In 2010, part of the impetus for Suffolk County to look to Sag Harbor Village as a means of ridding itself of ownership of Long Wharf was a report from the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, outlining over $600,000 in immediate repairs necessary to keep the wharf in working order. While the transfer of Long Wharf to Sag Harbor Village — an over two-year process — did go through, neither the county nor the village ever completed that list of repairs.

In March of this year, village engineer Paul Grosser compiled a schedule of repairs over a 10-year period. The village board discussed funding those repairs — at a total cost of $1 million — with $100,000 annually earmarked annually. Last month, Tuohy suggested it might be fiscally prudent to consider bonding instead.

Gilbride, who has staunchly opposed bonding for the repairs, noted the reserve repair fund has $1.2 million and while the village has paid for the Havens Beach remediation, it is expecting close to $300,000 back from the county and the state for that water quality project.

“I think we have to get a closer handle on what Long Wharf needs,” said Gilbride.

Stein agreed.

“Once we know about the cost, then we should talk about how to pay for it,” he said. “I am not so worried about bonding. I just don’t want to do piecemeal for this project.”

A longtime goal of Gilbride has been to see the village open up the third and fourth floors of the Municipal Building through the construction of an elevator. The village currently has a lift, which provides access from the first to the second floor including the meeting room, building department and justice court for the disabled. However, noted Gilbride, that lift has begun to falter and rather than replace it, he would like the board to consider installing an elevator that would enable the village to make use of the third floor for office space and the fourth floor for storage.

“It’s a key element to getting into the third floor and moving the building department up there,” he said, noting making the fourth floor usable in terms of office space is a larger — and pricier — challenge than he would like to take on this coming year.

According to Gilbride, installing an elevator would cost the village about $165,000.

A 2012 report detailing the cost of Municipal Building repairs and upgrades, including the elevator, estimated $1.8 million in funding would be necessary, which would include sprinkler system for the third floor and the extension of fire escapes to all floors in the building.

On Thursday, the board agreed to look into the cost of just installing the elevator, sprinkler system, and fire escapes — all necessary if the village wants to legally do business on the third floor.

The board also signed off, with little debate, on having an estimate drawn up for the creation of a helipad on Havens Beach. The helipad would specifically be for emergency service providers to use in the instance where a medevac is required out of Sag Harbor.

The next Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for January 14 at 6 p.m.

Schneiderman: Village Should Budget for Long Wharf

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Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said this week he planned to reach out to Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride and suggest the mayor incorporate monies to care for Long Wharf into his 2012-2013 spending plan.

The suggestion comes mere weeks after the latest meeting between Suffolk County and Sag Harbor Village officials over the fate of Long Wharf. For over a year and a half village and county officials have bandied back-and-forth over the ownership of Long Wharf. A 10-year lease between the village and the county expired over a year ago. Since then, while the village has continued to maintain Long Wharf on a daily basis, long term repairs were stalled by the county, which technically owns the facility as a county road.

However, with a new Suffolk County Executive – Steve Bellone – and a county budget facing a potential $200,000 deficit, Schneiderman said he believes he now has the votes to move forward with the sale of Long Wharf to the Village of Sag Harbor. This would mean the village would assume responsibility for budgeting for long term repairs of the wharf.

According to Schneiderman, Suffolk County traditionally counted on setting aside $100,000 annually to pay for long term repairs to Long Wharf.

Now, it appears, that responsibility could lie with the Village of Sag Harbor, which has just begun its budget talks for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

On Monday, Schneiderman said he has taken the first step by re-filing a bill that transfers ownership of Windmill Beach and the sliver of land hosting the Windmill itself into village hands. That bill could be decided on as early as March 13, he said. After that, Schneiderman said he or Suffolk County Executive Bellone will introduce a bill to transfer ownership of Long Wharf to the village.

“I am hoping we can wrap this whole thing up by June,” he said. “I would advise the mayor to plan for this in his budget.”

While Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride had yet to hear formally from Schneiderman by Monday afternoon, he said he was willing to take on the burden of Long Wharf and will discuss the matter briefly at Friday’s budget meeting at 4 p.m. in the Municipal Building.

Sustaining Variety in a Perfect World

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variety adjusted

By Claire Walla

Lisa Field was manning the register at the back of the Sag Harbor Variety Store one recent Thursday afternoon when an old man, awkwardly holding a small piece of insulated fabric, approached the counter.

“Do you have any Velcro?” the man asked skeptically.

Without missing a beat, Field reached over to a shelf behind her and pulled on a large spool of the sticky material.

“Do you want sew-on?” she asked, holding it up.

The man looked down at the kidney-shaped piece of fabric lying limp in his hands, somewhat puzzled. “I don’t know what I want,” he admitted.

Field picked up the piece of fabric and ran a small, thumb-sized strip of Velcro along the ends of two flaps on the sides of what turned out to be a winter coat, sized perfectly for the man’s Jack Russell Terrier.

“I think you’re going to want to sew it on right here, so it will last,” she pointed. Then she measured a half-yard (the store’s minimum), which came out to $2.17.

The man only needed a fraction of that amount, but he seemed pleased nonetheless. “Now I’ve got 12 years’ worth of Velcro!”

According to Lisa Field, whose parents Phil and Roseann Bucking bought the Sag Harbor Variety store in 1970, this sort of exchange happens all the time.

“People come here expecting that we’re going to have what they want,” she said.

Indeed, throughout the course the conversation, Field helped eight different customers find everything from pieces of fabric and tape measures to wool socks. Whether it’s Velcro, construction paper, yo-yos, sock darners, strawberry hullers or—simply—a single spool of thread, chances are the Variety Store’s got it.

And while you might expect as much from a store founded on the concept being able to carry everything its customers might want (without getting luxurious), this local one-stop-shop is somewhat of a rarity. Take sewing notions and fabrics, for instance. Field said these items are one of the store’s biggest draws; not because they’re trendy or cutting edge, but because they’re basic. And “not many people sell those things anymore.”

The Variety Store harks back to a different time in American history; a time before the Internet and before big box stores, when populations of people congregated around their Main Street, which inevitably cut through the center of town, because that’s where they went for all the basic things they needed to survive: the grocery store, the hardware store, the Laundromat… the local Five and Dime.

Sag Harbor has seen many iterations of change over the years, economic shifts that — for better or worse — have changed the make-up of Main Street. And yet, 90 years after the first Five and Dime opened in Sag Harbor, the Variety Store remains remarkably the same. The front entrance is still marked by a mechanical pony, which still costs only 25 cents to ride, and on inside you’ll find the same configuration of aisle ways, even the same configuration of lampshades against the back wall that existed at least as far back as the 1950s.

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride, who grew up in Sag Harbor, said he remembers the Variety Store from his youth, when it was more commonly called the Five and Ten and was owned by a Mr. Hansen.

“He had a little office upstairs where he could look out and make sure kids weren’t stealing anything,” Gilbride recalled with a chuckle.

Sag Harbor was different then, he said. Not only were there were more local businesses scattered throughout town, but they were an integral part of the community. Gilbride said he remembers when Mr. and Mrs. Korsak ran Korsak’s Deli on Madison Street where Cilantro’s is now (he still refers to it as Korsak’s), and when Stan Bubka ran the butcher shop close by.

“All that’s changed,” he added.

And while Gilbride said he believed Sag Harbor is weathering the current economic crisis relatively well, he recognized that family-run businesses have been largely affected by this change.

“The bigger chain stores are making it difficult for the mom and pops to survive.”

According to a Sag Harbor Express poll, 45 percent of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement: I do most of my basic shopping on Main Street. This means less than 50 percent of the local population is estimated to be shopping locally on a regular basis.

“In my case, I’ll sometimes spend a little more money to stay right here in the village [to shop],” Gilbride added. “But, it’s hard for some people. Maybe when I fully retire I won’t be able to do that anymore, either. These are tough times.”

So far, the Variety Store seems relatively shielded from the current strain of closing businesses. According to that same Express poll, 89 percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: I regularly shop at the Variety Store.

Perhaps the most important advantage the Variety Store has is that the Bucking family owns the building on Main Street where the Variety Store currently stands. It happened by chance, as Field tells it. Her parents only intended to purchase the business itself, because it was all they could afford. But, at the last minute, they struck a deal with the building’s owner, allowing them to pay for the property gradually over time.

“In hindsight,” Field continued, “had that not happened, we wouldn’t be here today.”

However, this doesn’t mean the shop is impervious to market conditions.

Perhaps the biggest threat to the store now, as Field sees it, is the notion that the Bay Street Theatre might leave the village of Sag Harbor.

“I think it could be devastating,” she said.

She compared the current climate in Sag Harbor — namely the worry over the potential loss of its arts institution — to the closing of the Bulova Watchcase Factory in 1981, which caused many permanent residents to move out of Sag Harbor to find work elsewhere.

Field said the store managed to recover quickly from those losses when — as luck would have it — the boom in the tourist industry swiftly took hold of the town.

“Thank God for the tourism!” Field exclaimed. “Because that’s what’s ridden us through [the tough economy].”

“Things go in cycles,” she continued.

For this reason, Field said she’s excited by the construction of the Bulova condos, because she imagines they’ll bring a whole new crop of people to the village. However, she realizes that the future of the Variety Store is dependent on a slew of competing forces.

While the store has managed to find success in the wake of big-box superstore Kmart opening up in Bridgehampton 12 years ago, shopping habits have changed dramatically since her family took over the business in 1970.

“It was a different time then,” she said. “If you needed something, you just went downtown to get it. Now, everyone can order things online — people don’t think anything of hopping in the car to drive to Riverhead to go load-up on stuff.”

This is a reality nearly every business owner on Main Street must contend with in some way.

However, as far as business owner Linda Sylvester — who owns Sylvester & Co. on Main Street directly across form the Variety Store — is concerned, stores like the Sag Harbor Variety have a great deal of staying power.

“The species as a whole remains constant, no matter how technology evolves,” she said. “Shopping is completely emotional, it’s social. I don’t think going to Walmart is very satisfying, even if it’s cheap.”

Shopping, she continued, is not just the accumulation of goods. It’s a chance to be a part of a community, to hear voices and engage in conversations — in a way, it’s also an adventure. As she sees it, not only does the Variety Store carry basic items needed to run a household, physically it’s a maze of shelves brimming with a discordant array of trinkets and oddities that trigger an emotional reaction in many of its customers.

“I think the Dime Store should be considered a shrine,” she mused. “People go there every day to worship at it.”

She continued, “The Dime Store is an example of what’s old is new again. There’s a certain amount of sustainability and humanness that’s lacking in the corporate world.”

In the grand scheme of things, she said Sag Harbor Village has managed to preserve a strong sense of community. But, as for what the future holds, Sylvester can see the balance potentially shifting.

“I think Sag Harbor has a longer run than most of the Hampton villages because so many people on Main Street own their own buildings,” Sylvester explained. “When that cycles out, Sag Harbor will go the way of East Hampton [Village]” — which is filled with Manhattan-based retailers, many of whom close-up shop in the winter months — “And that will be a sad day.”

Sag Harbor resident Eric Cohen believes Sag Harbor has already lost some of the character that made it so appealing when he and his wife, Bobbie, moved to the area in 1979.

“Bobbie and I came here because it was kind of funky and run-down, and we liked that feeling,” Cohen explained. “We didn’t want to be living in one of the flashy parts of the Hamptons.”

While he said Sag Harbor will probably never mirror the change he’s witnessed in East Hampton Village, he said he thinks Sag Harbor Village is beginning to become a version of that. Ultimately, he’s worried that the increasing cost to rent will start to drive more small business owners off Main Street, and that rising property values will pressure building owners to put their buildings up for sale and cash-out for hefty profits.

Field said she has no intentions of leaving Main Street, or changing the Variety Store. In fact, when asked whether or not she would consider selling her building, she grimaced — “I don’t even want to think about it!” she said.

“My earliest memories are of the store,” Field began. “I remember when I was 10, my brothers and I would go into the basement and mark the back-to-school items. And now my kids have all done that.”

Field has thee children, as well as nieces who have all worked at the store. She said she has no idea whether or not one of them will be so inclined to take-on the family business; but, she has no intention of going anywhere.

“As long as all the independent stores are here, I think that Sag Harbor will still have a vibrant Main Street and a good community,” she said. “Of course, 50 years from now, if we’re the only store here, it’s not going to be a vibrant Main Street.”

But Field chooses not to dwell on such things.

“In a perfect world, I’d keep the Variety Store open forever!” she said with a big grin. “And Conca D’Oro would be right across the street and the Wharf Shop would down the way… Because I think what we have is great. And, yeah, in a perfect world I’d keep it that way.”

Sag Harbor Trustees Withdraw Bamboo Ban

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Following both praise and criticism by Sag Harbor residents over a proposed law that would have banned bamboo in the village, on Tuesday night the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees voted to withdraw the legislation from consideration.

“I have been talking to different people and I think the best thing to do is to advise people not to plant invasive species,” said trustee Robby Stein, first suggesting the proposed legislation be tabled and then suggesting it be withdrawn completely.

The rest of the village board supported Stein unanimously, including Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride.

The legislation was originally introduced in September after the village board heard the pleas of resident Pat Field this summer. Field said she has done almost everything imaginable in an effort to kill bamboo spreading onto her Madison Street property from a neighbor’s yard. The bamboo, said Field, was threatening her very home.

Originally, the legislation targeted all invasive species of plants, but was quickly scaled back to address only bamboo. According to the last version of the draft law, if adopted residents would not have been allowed to have bamboo “planted, maintained or otherwise permitted to exist within 10-feet of any property line, street, sidewalk or public right of way.”

However, the legislation was criticized by some in the village — including homeowners facing a similar battle as Field — as being too far reaching for the local municipality, and potentially costly for village residents who bought properties that already contained bamboo.

“I think the discussion we have had was  a great discussion, but it showed clearly this is a neighbor to neighbor issue and the bigger issue here is there are residents who have bamboo and have done everything right,” said Mayor Gilbride. “It is the encroachment onto neighbor’s properties that really needs to be addressed.”

Prior to the meeting, Mayor Gilbride said he would ask Sag Harbor Village Attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. to explore what options the village has to ensure property owners are properly maintaining their bamboo and not negatively impacting their neighbors.

Village to Take Closer Look at Municipal Building

Following a special Sag Harbor Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, December 8, the village has agreed to spend $15,000 to explore the structural integrity of the Municipal Building on Main Street.

According to Mayor Gilbride, the goal is to ascertain whether the third and fourth floors of the building — now used for solely storage and not open to the public — could be made accessible through an elevator in the building.

Currently, the Municipal Building has a lift installed to help disabled residents gain access to the second floor, which houses the village justice court, building department, main meeting room and the mayor’s office.

While much depends on what this structural assessment shows, Mayor Gilbride said it has long been a dream of his to have the third floor opened up for use by village government. An elevator is required by law for the village to place any entity needed by residents on the third floor.

Mayor Gilbride said he envisions moving the building department to the third floor, if an elevator could be installed, so that department would have more space in which to work. A mayor’s office and conference room for the village boards could also be carved out of that space, he added.

The village’s justice court has largely taken up most of the office space traditionally used as the conference room, as well as the mayor’s office.

According to Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley, he will work with engineers to first try and locate the original schematics for the Municipal Building, which dates back to at least 1850, he said.

After that, ascertaining the possibilities for the Municipal Building should happen rather quickly, said Yardley.

“These are all new thoughts,” cautioned Mayor Gilbride. “The toughest part will be seeing if we can get an elevator in here at all.”

Unopposed Incumbents Keep Their Seats, As Sag Harbor Elects its First Village Justice in Decades

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East Hampton Town Supervisor candidate for the Independence and Democratic Parties, Zachary Cohen, talks with Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, Trustee Bruce Stafford and Sag Harbor Justice Andrea Schiavoni shortly before Gilbride and Schiavoni were re-elected to their positions in an uncontested village election Tuesday night.

It may have been an uncontested election Tuesday night in the Village of Sag Harbor, but what residents may not have realized while casting their ballots was it was also a historic vote.


Andrea Harum Schiavoni became the first elected Justice for the Village of Sag Harbor since the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees debuted the village’s own justice court last December. Schiavoni, who was appointed as the village justice by Mayor Brian Gilbride last fall, is the first Sag Harbor justice elected in the village in decades.

Schiavoni earned 58 votes in Tuesday’s election. Including four absentee ballots, a total of 63 votes was cast in uncontested race for village justice, as well as village mayor and for two trustee seats.

Prior to the polls closing at the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department on Brick Kiln Road, Schiavoni – who also serves as a Southampton Town Justice and practices out of the Sag Harbor branch of her deceased father’s firm, Harum & Harum – was reluctant to even discuss possible victory, despite a lack of contenders for her position.

“I have never been unopposed before, so let’s just see,” she said. “I won’t quite believe it until it happens.”

After the votes we tallied, she admitted she is simply pleased to continue to be a part of the court, and its development, as it moves out of its infancy.

“It has been working so well, I am just so happy to be able to continue what we have started here, to make sure we get to the point where it moves like clockwork,” said Schiavoni.

Six months after the creation of the court, Schiavoni said she is prepping for the busiest time of the year, but that opening the court in December was done intentionally, so everyone could get their feet wet before the summer season, which naturally comes with more court cases.

“The more we do it, the easier it flows,” she said.

Schiavoni was not alone on the Sag Harbor Party banner, of course. Mayor Brian Gilbride, Deputy Mayor Tim Culver and Trustee Ed Gregory easily retained their seats on the board.

Gregory received the most votes, earning 59 in his favor. Gregory was followed by Gilbride who earned 55 votes and Culver, who nabbed 55.

“It was what I expected,” said Gilbride after the results were announced. “I never expected to get all 63 votes and I shouldn’t. I remember in the 1970s, (former Southampton Town Supervisor) Marty Lang said, ‘In this job, you make enemies and you lose friends.’ When all is said and done, I work for the village and I am happy to do it.”

Short Term Costs for Long Wharf Could be Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars

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By Kathryn G. Menu

According to a report compiled by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works and sent to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, while Long Wharf has “no structural deficiencies,” short term repairs to the wharf will cost the village about $340,000 should Sag Harbor Village officials decide to take the county up on an offer to buy the pier for $1.

Included in the purchase of Long Wharf is also ownership of Windmill Beach, and the deed to a Hempstead Street property the county has previously offered the village for the development of affordable housing.

However, according to a larger engineer’s report, furnished to the village on Wednesday afternoon, sometime in the next decade the village will need to spend $621,000 to cover repairs to the wharf to ensure no serious structural damage occurs as a result of not keeping up with the maintenance of the facility.

In the initial letter, Suffolk County Department of Public Works Chief Deputy Commissioner James Peterman writes that while Long Wharf was once owned by the Village of Sag Harbor, it was transferred to the county and placed in the county road system, he says, “to take advantage of certain funding opportunities then available under the New York State Highway Law.”

“Today, Long Wharf is a central part of the village’s downtown area and provides parking and recreational opportunities to residents and visitors,” writes Peterman.

While the county has paid the bill for the long-term maintenance of Long Wharf as its owners, the village has taken in revenues from dockage at the site, last year earning $93,000.

At this point in time, continues Peterman, the county would like to transfer the ownership of Long Wharf and Windmill Beach to the village, making the first formal offer by the county to Mayor Gilbride and the board of trustees.

Attached to Peterman’s letter, are the estimated costs to clean, paint and refurbish the wharf area, at a total price tag of $340,000.

According to Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, that $340,000 in work would need to be performed in the next few years to ensure the long-term structural health of Long Wharf. The $621,000 costs laid out in the engineer’s report detail long-term maintenance required at the site. Schneiderman said if the county retained ownership of Long Wharf, it would likely seek to bond for the whole of the project rather than parse it out.

Schneiderman said he has been debating with county officials over the Long Wharf issue, trying to get an agreement for $340,000 in funding for the Village of Sag Harbor. While the county cannot bond a project and then sell the subject property without charging the buyer for all costs, Schneiderman suggested that if the county retained a partial ownership for the life of the bond, perhaps a deal could be struck.

However, while he supports that kind of measure, Schneiderman said he has not found similar support within the county.

“The county’s position is to give the wharf to the village, as is, and not to do anything” said Schneiderman. “I am just not sure I will be able to get that approved. The county is strapped for cash and can’t see why it would maintain and own this.”

Schneiderman said he believes it is in Sag Harbor Village’s best interest to retain Long Wharf and Windmill Beach as its own, and that he would hate to see a worse case scenario emerge, where the county sold the properties to a private owner who would then set up a paid parking system, and charge for docking and use of the facility for private events like the Bay Street Theatre Gala.

“It’s in the village’s interest to own Long Wharf so they can have total control over its future,” he said.

Village trustees have discussed taking ownership of Long Wharf in earnest, with a majority of the board appearing in support of the concept. Last month, trustees laid out tentative plans to create a budget line to fund the long-term maintenance of Long Wharf by socking away $100,000 each budget year, ideally funded through dockage at the site. Harbor Master Bob Bori has also discussed expanding the village’s transient docks as a way to increase revenues.

Schneiderman suggested additionally that a “Friends of Long Wharf” organization could be created and suspected many members of the community would be keen to support the long-term costs of maintaining Long Wharf and perhaps making it more pedestrian friendly.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Gilbride said he had received both reports and would discuss them in detail with the village board of trustees before the village makes a formal decision.

The next Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting is on December 14 at 6 p.m.

Sag Harbor Village Adopts Budget

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On Friday, April 16, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees adopted an $8,229,019 spending plan for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, a 2.43 percent increase over this year’s budget with $7,703,690 earmarked to cover the village’s general operating budget and the remaining $525,329 accounting for Sag Harbor’s sewer fund.

The adoption came after board members decided to scrap plans to fund the replacement of 27 self-contained breathing apparatuses and back up air bottles for the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department at a cost of $130,000. The department hopes to replace its entire stock of 54 air packs in the next two years as many are decades old, some hailing from the 1970s. Newer models are more efficient and not as heavy, reducing the burden on firefighters during duty, according to department officials. The total cost of the replacement would come in around $320,000.

The department has applied for a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, which will be doled out in the fall and could cover some 80 percent of the cost. Chief Robert Mitchell had hoped the village would budget it a portion of the replacement cost in case the village isn’t awarded the grant monies. Conversely, members of the village board expressed worry that budgeting the expenditure could put the grant at risk, stating they would rather buoy the department’s truck reserve this year, and address the air packs next year should the department not receive the grant.

On Friday, Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said the board had decided to remove the $130,000 originally earmarked for the packs, and has instead added an additional $25,000 to the fire department’s truck reserve, bringing that expenditure up to $50,000.

Sag Harbor Village Trustees said it was a priority to keep spending down for the coming fiscal year, however after mandatory contractual expenses and other non discretionary spending was laid into the budget, the board was forced to cut a number of requests by departments, including an estimated $250,000 to $500,000 for a new fire boat and Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano’s request for an additional police officer. Currently, that department is running with 11 full-time officers, while the State of New York has reported efficiency and oversight in the police department would be better served with 14 full-time officers in the village.

The reduction of the budget leaves the final tax rate at 0.002621. According to Sag Harbor Village Clerk Sandra Schroeder, a house assessed at $795,000 can expect to see a $14.57 increase in village taxes in the next fiscal year.