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Waterfront Plan Seeks Public Involvement

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By Claire Walla

Do you have any thoughts or opinions about local waterways in the town of Southampton? The vitality of marine life? Public access to town-owned beaches? The quality of water in this coastal region?

As the town of Southampton is in the process of developing its Waterfront Protection Plan (WPP), now’s the time to make them known. And, with its new website created specifically to address issues of water safety and environmental sustainability, the town of Southampton is making that task very easy for you.

As part of its much greater effort to develop a WPP, members of the WPP steering committee — planning and development administrator Jefferson Murphree, assistant planning and development administrator Freda Eisenberg, chief environmental analyst Marty Shea, town trustee Ed Warner and councilwoman Bridget Fleming — helped launch the website www.waterfrontprotectionsouthampton.org.

While it’s certainly an effort to share information with the public, it is also important for culling information from the public as the town continues to pursue drafting this plan to protect its waterways, according to Eisenberg.

As she explained to Southampton Town board members at a meeting last Friday, December 16, the website is part of an agreement the town made with the state one year ago when it accepted grant money to create a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP).

“One of the components of our contract with the state is to have a community outreach program,” Eisenberg explained.

Since it launched nearly two months ago, Eisenberg said the site has seen several hundred hits a month and has generated several comments from the public. Many of the issues raised on the website are being addressed by members of the town’s consulting agency, the Urban Harbors Institute at the University of Massachusetts.

While individual questions may not necessarily get answered directly, Eisenberg said the consultants will search comments for common themes and address overarching issues.

The website also includes research and information, such as the town’s current Peconic Estuary Plan and Regional Plan. And it further clarifies information, such as explaining why the town decided to develop a Waterfront Protection Plan — the town’s own terminology — rather than a Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, or LWRP.

An LWRP — a common method of putting plans in place to protect local waterways that many local municipalities (including Sag Harbor) have already adopted — is technically what the state’s grant money is earmarked for.

However, Eisenberg explained, “the reason why it’s ‘waterfront protection,’ not LWRP, is that … the term ‘revitalization’ has connotations of redevelopment that aren’t particularly consistent with what we want to do in Southampton. The emphasis here is on protection and preservation enhancement.”

The website, she added, is important for getting information to the public in a more timely and efficient fashion.

“Instead of waiting until we have a complete plan at the end of the project to come out for a public hearing, we’re going to post material as it becomes available,” she said.

In January, Eisenberg said the committee plans to upload a research report submitted by the project consultants.

“They admitted they were a little overwhelmed by the amount of information Southampton has out there,” she added. “But, we’re still pretty comfortable in keeping to the finish date.”

The town is only one year into its two-year contract with the state.

Gateway Plan Gains Support

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Though there have been many meetings on the changing face of the gateway into Sag Harbor from Bridgehampton, Tuesday’s Southampton Town Board meeting was the first public hearing since the plan was amended in December to include a larger study area.

The Gateway Study, as it has come to be known, is an examination by Southampton Town of the area immediately south of the village along the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike and it recommends that town officials look at the area for possible re-zoning.

Currently, the area is zoned as highway business (HB), but is under consideration by the town board to be changed to hamlet office (HO). If that zoning change happens, large highway businesses such as lumber yards or car dealerships — which are currently allowed — would be prohibited.

While the public hearings on the Gateway Study in the past have been lengthy with speakers both for and against the change having their say, Tuesday’s meeting took on quite a different feel. The statements were kept short – all speakers except one having spoken on the record about the issue in the past.

Jefferson Murphree, town planning and development administrator, who explained the current status of the project to the meeting room on Tuesday, outlined the goals of the Gateway Study. According to Murphree, one of the biggest reasons for proposed zoning change is the potential environmental impact that an HB zone could bring to the area.

“Zoning can do a lot in this case,” said Murphree, “through the zone change we can better achieve land uses.”

Eric Cohen – a member of the Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) – who represented the John Jermain Library at the hearing, expressed gratitude to the town board for considering the change. He said the library is supportive of the re-zoning. Cohen pointed to a map and showed where the library is hoping to build an annex on the turnpike near Mashashimuet Park.

“Highway Business would tend to encourage a lot of truck traffic and with a library in that area we need to take steps to ensure the children are protected,” he said.

Only one speaker spoke out against the proposal on Tuesday. John Landis, owner of Bay Burger, a restaurant on the Sag Harbor Turnpike, argued the change of zone would eliminate possible business options for properties located within the study area. Landis said if the area were to switch to HO, he would not be allowed to return his establishment to the wholesale bakery it was prior to his purchase of the property. Nor, he added, could it be used as an outpatient care facility. He further argued that the HB zone would allow 82 different types of uses, and HO would only allow 15.

“I would always be concerned of any change and reducing employment opportunities,” Landis said.

Town supervisor Linda Kabot called the public hearing a “re-do” because the study area was expanded after the last public hearing in December to include four additional residential properties, not originally included in the study. Kabot put out a vote to roll over all the previous information from the earlier public hearings into the record. It was unanimously adopted.

Councilman Chris Nuzzi said the four additional properties — all zoned R-20, a purely residential designation — petitioned the town to be included in the study area.

Priscilla Ciccariello, also a member of the Sag Harbor CAC, said she is in favor of the zone change. Ciccariello has spoken on the record at town board meetings many times in the past, arguing why she believes the zone should change to HO. One of her main arguments has been the environmental impact zoning might have on Ligonee Brook, which runs adjacent to the properties in the study area. On Tuesday, however, she also said the zone change would be great for what may be built in the area in the future. She discussed both the library and the building site of the new Sag Harbor United Methodist Church – which is within 500 feet of this study area. She said for both these reasons there should be traffic calming in the area.

“It will help to set a nice character for this area,” said Ciccariello, “we are really reaching for a nice character and opening to the village.”

Noticeably absent from the public hearing was Robert Reid, owner of Reid Brothers Inc, an automotive repair shop in the area who has been speaking against the zone change from the very beginning. The Reid family was collectively arguing the change in zoning would reduce certain business opportunities for them.

At the Sag Harbor CAC (Citizens Advisory Committee) meeting on Friday March 6, CAC chairman John Linder noted the re-zoning of the gateway area would be a “crowning achievement” for the CAC. With the Gateway Study, Linder felt the town board seriously considered the concerns of local CACs and looked to them as legitimate advisory boards, which Linder said was a departure from the previous relationship between the town board and the CACs.

In an effort to work more closely with CACs and members of the public, Nuzzi attended the CAC meeting and said “I give credit to the Sag Harbor CAC for this study … the CACs exist for a reason. They are made up of residents who live and work in the community, and they should always be encouraged to participate in the process.”

Because the Gateway Study would affect the town’s Comprehensive Plan, the county needs to review the document. According to Murphree, the town is now waiting to hear back from the Suffolk County Planning Board and the Suffolk County Planning Commission. The public hearing on the Gateway Study was adjourned for two weeks and will be on the agenda again on March 24 at 6 p.m.


Gateway Study to be Expanded

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On November 25, the Town of Southampton decided to expand the study area of Sag Harbor’s Gateway — the area along the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike — by adding four residential parcels totaling three acres to the study. Any change in the zoning along the Gateway would ultimately be incorporated into the town of Southampton’s comprehensive plan — a master planning document for the town.
Numerous issues surround the proposed change in zoning for the area which would turn it from highway business (HB) to hamlet office (HO). Those in favor of the change cite traffic and environmental concerns associated with HB zoned parcels and would like to see a less intensive usage along the gateway. Opponents of the change want it to stay highway business because it allows for many different business options along the stretch, which, they argue, was the reason many owners purchased these properties in the first place.
Last week, town planning and development administrator, Jefferson Murphree suggested to the town board that the town close the public hearing so that the study area can be increased and revisited again in January.
“We are just expanding what has already been analyzed,” explained Murphree.
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the study included an area of just under eight acres, excluding four property owners to the south. But the new study will include those properties, bringing the total acreage to just over ten.
During Tuesday’s meeting, councilwoman Nancy Graboski asked Murphree if there was a possibility of considering a re-zoning and adding an alternative Planned Development District (PDD) at the Reid’s automotive garage – Reid’s Brothers Inc. The Reid family has been opposed to the re-zoning of the area, which they have said will greatly reduce certain business opportunities for them. A PDD would give the Reids different commercial options for their property.
“The Reid Brothers property is pre-existing non-conforming,” Murphree explained, “They will still have a wide variety of options for business uses.”
He also added that a zone change is very specific and there are already too many PDDs in the area but there may be the possibility of a commercial PDD for the Reid Family.
Town supervisor Linda Kabot Kabot added that this change may be done by the zoning board – when the Reid family decides they want to apply for a different business opportunity.
She added that the Reid family would still have “a lot of rights with the HO overlay.”
At the last public hearing for the Sag Harbor gateway study, Group for the East End’s Jeremy Samuelson brought three large displays that explained what types of businesses can be established under Highway Business, Hamlet Office and what would be allowed under a special exceptions category. This exercise was to show Samuelson’s support for the re-zoning and gave examples for the types of businesses that would be allowed under hamlet office, which he said actually added more opportunities over the current zoning.
Owner of Bay Burger, John Landis, who has spoken at prior public hearings in opposition to the change of zoning spoke again on Tuesday. He told the town board that his business offered more employment opportunities to the area.
“We [Bay Burger] have created some jobs,” said Landis, who added that by removing the HB designation, a number of business opportunities will be lost for the areas at Sag Harbor’s boundaries. “We are removing those business opportunities — removing opportunities for our citizens — those that could continue to live in our environment.”
Landis offered a potential compromise, to make the area Hamlet Commercial, which would continue to allow retail use, whereas the Hamlet Office would not.
“We are losing people,” Landis argued, “People that are not skilled enough to work in an office, that are only able to work in a place like Bay Burger.” He continued that if the area cannot be used in its full advantage then certain types of jobs would be lost.
Kabot answered that the board would like to see, “a nice happy mix of residences with businesses.”
She also noted that the Southampton Town Trustees have taken the responsibility of keeping Ligonee Brook clean and clear. The brook runs adjacent to the area under review and is considered by environmentalists as being an important artery in the creeks and brooks connecting the Long Pond Greenbelt area of Sag Harbor to the ocean in Sagaponack. The trustees took a tour of the brook last month, to determine its ecological importance.
Sag Harbor resident and advocate for the zone change, Pricilla Ciccariello, also argued at Tuesday’s meeting that there would be more possibilities for business use from the zone change.
“There are more under HO for businesses than under HB,” she said and added that with the change, it would provide more opportunity for workforce housing and noted that this is the only area left bordering the village with this type of housing. Ciccariello also told the town board that the zone change was needed in order to preserve the rural character for the entrance to Sag Harbor.
“More importantly,” she added during an interview on Friday, “it needs to be done to protect the environmental value of this area because of the environmental aspects pertaining to Ligonee Brook and the Long Pond Greenbelt area.”
Kabot announced that everyone would be given “another bite at the apple” in January and added “We can’t change the world with the entrance way to Sag Harbor.”