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Options for Old Burial Ground

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While one of the more difficult economic periods since 1929 may not be considered the ideal time to propose tackling at least two capital projects, the Village of Sag Harbor is looking towards replacing or restoring a derelict fence at the Old Burial Ground after years of delay and would also like to tackle traffic calming improvements on Jermain Avenue.

However, warned Mayor Greg Ferraris during a board of trustees meeting on Wednesday, November 12, both come with hefty price tags; which is why he would like village residents to tell the board what they would like to see Sag Harbor officials undertake.

“These are two projects that have been put off time and time again,” said Ferraris at the meeting, noting the Old Burial Ground fence is in dire need of replacement, bordering on a safety issue.

The village took over the management of the Old Burial Ground roughly 10 years ago from the Town of Southampton and for the last two years has been trying to fund the fence’s restoration, which also involves replacing a concrete wall on Madison Street.

The Old Burial Ground, which sits next to the First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church, and overlooks Madison Street, was used as a burial site beginning in the mid-1700s, and is the final resting place for a number of Sag Harbor’s historic figures, as well as founding families and war heroes.

The village had budgeted $25,000 towards the fence’s restoration last year; however, bids for both the masonry and the ironwork have come in anywhere from $220,000 to $375,000, far beyond what the village hoped to spend.

On Friday, Ferraris said he believed the village should explore options other than restoration, including replacing the fence or hiring someone to complete a reproduction — both of which would be less costly to village taxpayers at the end of the day.

“We want to start hearing public comments on this and hear what people would like us to do with this project,” said Ferraris. “Everyone does need to understand that these projects do come with a price tag.”

Another project, often shelved in the face of looming costs, that Ferraris would like to see the village begin to address is traffic calming on Jermain Avenue.

Last year, the village explored applying for funding through the Safe Routes to School program — a national program designed to provide monies to construct roadway improvements and provide education and encouragement to get kids out of vehicles and promote walking and bicycling to school. As a part of that exploration, a study was completed by The Louis Berger Group, which was hired as consultants by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, the local branch of the New York State Department of Transportation. The goal of the study was to look at the challenges the village faces in getting children to ride their bikes or walk to school — whether lack of sidewalks, safety or traffic concerns.

Jermain Avenue was the centerpiece of a number of traffic calming suggestions, the most basic of which was that a continuous sidewalk, on one side of the road, stretch between the schools and nearby Mashashimuet Park.

On Friday, Ferraris said not every aspect of traffic calming suggested in the report — which he called an “elaborate, complex and expensive project” — would be implemented, due to cost.

“However, there are items I feel the village can accomplish,” he said. Specifically, he said, in addition to a continuous sidewalk, three problem intersections — Jermain Avenue and Suffolk Street, Jermain Avenue and Madison Street, and Jermain Avenue and Division Street — should be addressed whether through raised crosswalks and bump outs or signs.

“We will determine what is the most cost effective way we can make this a safer area for our children,” he said.

Ferraris said while he is personally committed to both the project at the Old Burial Ground and on Jermain Avenue, in these times of economic uncertainty, he needs to know this is what the taxpayers of Sag Harbor want as well.

“This comes with a cost and sometimes an extreme cost,” said Ferraris. “It is time for people to step forward and let us know how important it is to them. Obviously this is not the most opportune time to think about capital projects, but these two in particular have been neglected, in my opinion, for far too long. Personally, I am an advocate for both projects, but I will listen to public opinion on this issue.”

Ferraris has already moved forward by scheduling an appointment with iron worker and artist John Battle to discuss the Old Burial Ground fence, and will also begin a conversation with the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board next week on options for the fence.

“Everyone is going to need to understand, everything comes with a price,” he said.

In other village news, the board passed a resolution on Wednesday to hire Jennifer Mesiano as a grants writer for the village at a rate not to exceed $130 per hour. Ferraris noted that most area municipalities have engaged grant writers, including Mesiano, to seek out funding for a number of projects. He added that Mesiano has had a successful track record in her work for the Village of Southampton.

The Village of Sag Harbor is also exploring the concept of partnering with regional schools and Southampton Town in a purchasing cooperative for items like fuel oil, diesel, copy paper and telephone services. The board authorized an intermunicipal agreement so the agencies can work together in this capacity in the near future.