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Buoyed by the Boat Business

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Whatever floats your boat: Lou Grignon is the proprietor of the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard.

Whatever floats your boat: Lou Grignon is the proprietor of the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard.



By Bryan Boyhan

In the 18 years Lou Grignon has owned the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard on Bay Street he’s seen the village emerge as a popular destination for yachts cruising the eastern seaboard. With its broad offering of cultural activities to its collection of restaurants, Sag Harbor has joined the ranks of Savannah, Block Island and Bar Harbor as popular ports of call for a leisure class that continues to fuel the economies of maritime communities.

Grignon’s yacht yard and its ship’s store have benefited from that growth, and he has seen his number of employees double in the nearly two decades he’s been in business here.

“We currently have about ten guys working in the yard, there’s Robert in the ship’s store, and another couple who work in the office,” said Grignon in an interview this week. “That’s about twice as many as I had when we started.”

The type of boat coming into the harbor has changed dramatically, said Grignon.

“The scale of the boat has come up quite a bit,” he said. “The first boat tenders we saw were all inflatables. Now we’re seeing yachts with 20- or 30 ft. center console tenders.”

Much of the business is in maintenance, service and storage, and indeed the property surrounding the building at the yard were packed with boats in the day or so leading up to the arrival of Tropical Storm Irene. This week, the yard is again wide open, as all but two boats were returned to the water in the week after the storm passed. This is an encouraging sign, and indicative of boaters’ changing habits.

“It used to be after Labor Day, and with kids going back to school, many people would start puling their boats for the season, and by the time Thanksgiving came around we were just about done,” said Grignon. “Now, we’re still pulling boats in the first and second week of December.”

“Those who have boats out here want to wait until the bitter end,” he said.

The rhythm of the business dictates a rush in the spring to get boats in the water, but after that the yard generally quiets down.

“Once the boats are in the water the yard’s pretty much done until something breaks,” said Grignon

But, he said, in recent years the have seen a growth in the maintenance sector.

“Someone will want another coat of varnish for their boat, or we’ll pull a boat for a power washing,” he said,

The demand for varnishing alone has caused Grignon to hire someone who specializes in it.

“I brought this guy up from Antigua” he said, “and all he does is varnish and paint. That’s a position I never had three years ago. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve given him his own helper.”

Grignon said he noticed an upswing in the arrival of larger boats — those 60-feet and bigger — about ten years ago. It’s a boon he said, not just for his business but for all the marinas in the village.

“You see all the yards inside are full, and Waterfront Marina and the Yacht Club are full,” he said, “you can see the number of mega yachts lined up.”

What’s driving all this interest?

“Sag Harbor’s a destination, boaters want to come here,” said Grignon, who noted Bay Street Theatre, the art galleries, and local restaurants just steps away from the waterfront as a big draw for cruising yachts. “There’s a real connection between the dock and the street. You don’t have that in Montauk or Southampton.”

He added that he has seen a growth not just in visiting yachts, but in the number of local boat owners as well.

“You’ve got all these local guys out there in their center consoles fishing out of Sag Harbor and the popularity of the Wednesday night sailing races has really grown,” said Grignon.

Grignon, who bought the business and its store from Jim Briggs in the early 1990s, and then the real estate from Pat Malloy about five years ago, has expanded the retail part of the business, growing their stock of general marine supplies and expanding their lines of supplies for Honda and John Deere engines. In particular, he said, they are dealers for Yanmar engines— which, he said, are in about 80 percent of all cruising sailboats — and carry a full line of Yanmar parts.

“The guys come in and get what they need,” said Grignon, “but that’s left women largely outside,”

So the ship’s store has also expanded its line of name brand weather gear, with such manufacturers and Henri Lloyd. In the coming year he said he will also invest in stock for UV protective clothing.

“A lot of people are asking for it,” he said. “We’re all getting older, and concerned about the sun.”

All in all, Grignon is optimistic about the growth of the maritime business here.

“The only thing that’s going to hinder Sag Harbor is that they’ve got to maintain the channels and the mooring grids,” he said. “Over the next five or ten years that could be a problem.”



Harbor Committee Split Over New Code

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The Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees will have no guidance from its Harbor Committee after three members of the advisory panel reached an impasse regarding their opinion on the proposed zoning code and its impact on the waterfront district.

Despite Harbor Committee Chairman Bruce Tait maintaining during an April 13 meeting that he believes the new code both protects the village as a whole and will not harm current waterfront business, with two members absent he was unable to sway the rest of the board that the code was in line with the guidelines set out in the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP).

Specifically, it appeared as if committee members Dr. Tom Halton and Nancy Haynes were swayed by owners of the Sag Harbor Yacht Club and the Sag Harbor Boat Yard and their concern over marinas, yacht clubs and boat yards being proposed as a special exception use, not a permitted use as they are currently zoned, in the new code. All current businesses would be considered pre-existing, non-conforming should the code be adopted and therefore would be able to operate as they have and even change hands without repercussions. Only if the business owners wished to change the use on their properties or seek additional uses, like the creation of a restaurant, would they fall under the proposed zoning code.

On Monday night it was Lou Grignon, owner of the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard, and Sag Harbor Yacht Club Director Robert Camerino who approached the committee about their concerns regarding the zoning code.

Grignon, acknowledging he should be addressing the village board on the reasons behind the zoning code changes, returned to a similar discussion broached during last month’s meeting. He has questioned whether boat yards, commercial fishing charters, yacht sales and charters, marinas, boat dealerships and yacht clubs should be changed to fall under special exception rather than a permitted use. Under special exception, any expansion or new use on a waterfront property would be subject to review that includes a discussion on whether the use would be appropriate for the neighborhood or not.

At last month’s meeting Grignon argued the plan was inconsistent with the LWRP, a planning document for the village that protects the harbor and encourages waterfront businesses, as it states the village should shy away from legislation that would adversely impact marina businesses. However, both Tait and village planner Richard Warren disagreed with Grignon’s interpretation of the LWRP, which they assert asks the village to protect what currently exists on the waterfront rather than the business potential of the waterfront. Both Tait and Warren also said during Monday night’s meeting that they did not believe the new code was detrimental to existing businesses, as they retain their permitted status as pre-existing non-conforming entities.

“Nothing by being designated special exception changes any purposes or uses of a [current] marina,” said Tait. “It stays exactly the same as it always has been. So I would just like to ask what the adverse effect is.”

Grignon countered he believes the property value is affected by this change, a notion Camerino and the board of directors of the Sag Harbor Yacht Club also used as the core of their argument against the proposed code.

“I understand that if I never ask for anything, never change, I am permitted,” said Grignon.

Tait countered with a fully developed waterfront, the LWRP mandates the village look at new uses more carefully, which he believes the new code allows. Grignon argued the marina district, eliminated in the new code, and the waterfront district, were kept separate as unique areas of the village, the Redwoods section of the waterfront more residential and the Bay Street side more industrial supporting torpedo factories and the like in its history.

Camerino, reading from a prepared statement, backed up Grignon’s concerns and added the yacht club believes an economic impact statement should be conducted before the committee weighs in on the code.

“Furthermore it is imperative that the village implement an economic impact study to determine any and all possible adverse economic effects the proposed changes to he Code may have on he business values and property values along the waterfront prior to your committee’s determination of consistency with the LWRP and prior to the village trustees approving and enacting the propped code,” writes Camerino.

 “There is just no difference for the uses that will go on in the harbor right now,” replied Tait. “There is a change for new uses and if new uses come into the harbor they need to go through the special exception process and that is appropriate because the harbor is fully developed and needs that protection.”

Haynes, who noted during the meeting that her employer Patrick Malloy III – a waterfront property and marina owner in Sag Harbor – believed the code was detrimental, and Dr. Halton indicated to Tait they could not second his motion to support the code by shaking their heads.

The trustees will hold a public hearing on the new code today, Thursday, April 16, at 5 p.m. 

Harbor Committee Weighs In on New Code

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Harbor committee meetings are usually relaxed, quiet affairs, but on Monday evening, members of the public and Sag Harbor’s planning consultant Richard Warren shared a charged conversation over the proposed new village zoning code, particularly over the zoning revisions that will be made to the waterfront district.
The committee opened the meeting with an hour-long public work session, in which Warren explained changes that would be made in the waterfront district if the proposed new village zoning code passes. According to the chairman of the committee, Bruce Tait, Warren paid particular attention to explaining permitted and special exception uses in the waterfront district.
After the work session, the meeting was open to the public and several community members, including Ted Conklin, owner of The American Hotel, and Lou Grignon, owner of the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard, voiced their concerns over the code.
The harbor committee had called Warren in to clarify their confusion over permitted and special exception uses. A majority of the uses in the waterfront district are deemed special exception under the proposed code. These special exception uses include boatyards, commercial fishing charters, yacht sales and charters, marinas, boat dealerships, restaurants and yacht clubs. Many of these uses are permitted under the current code.
After the meeting, Tait said re-categorizing these uses, from permitted to special exception, will help the village safeguard the harbor in the village, where there is a premium on space, and keep the uses diverse.
“With the harbor so built up, [I feel] it is appropriate for the village to make the most of special exceptions … A special exception use is still a permitted use but with special criteria [the project] has to meet,” said Tait.
“This gives the village a chance to look at each project to determine its appropriateness,” added Tait. “I don’t think the special exception will handicap any of the harbor businesses.”
Grignon, however, believes letting the board decide if a special exception business is appropriate within the waterfront district gives the board too much power. He feels marina businesses should remain permitted uses.
“My question is how come the most water-dependent uses are now being made [into special exception uses],” asked Grignon.
Grignon feels the proposed code is inconsistent with the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), a planning document for Sag Harbor which protects the harbor and encourages maritime business.
“The LWRP states that the village should avoid legislation that will adversely impact [marina] businesses,” said Grignon.
Tait, however, feels the proposed zoning document and the LWRP are in accord.
“As I looked at [the new village zoning code] through the eyes of the LWRP, in general, I didn’t have a problem with it,” said Tait.
Conklin’s concerns were of a different sort. He claims the village board of trustees didn’t fully incorporate the harbor committee into the drafting process of the code as it pertains to the waterfront district. Although Tait conceded the committee could have been more involved in the process, he added that Warren frequently updated the committee on changes made to the zoning document.
According to Tait’s understanding of SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) procedure, the committee couldn’t fully weigh in on the proposed zoning code, and give it a consistency report with the LWRP, until after a final version had been drafted.
The committee, however, did manage to come up with a few suggestions for the board during Monday’s session. They suggested adding additional maritime operations into the use table, like sail storage and sail repair shops. Warren said these additional uses would likely be adopted by the board as they are in line with the village’s vision for the waterfront district. Warren added that listing art galleries as a permitted use in the new code was actually a typo, and won’t be permitted in the waterfront district.
At the close of the meeting, the committee agreed to draft a letter to the board of trustees asking for more time to further review the proposed zoning code. The committee plans to hold a special meeting in the coming weeks.