By Stephen J. Kotz
Cee Scott Brown, the long-time chairman of the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, confirmed this week that he would step down when his term expires on July 20.
His decision comes as the village faces a growing chorus of complaints that its various regulatory boards are not doing enough to control the pace of development that has accelerated and spread throughout the village over the past year or two.
Mr. Brown, who said he had been thinking about giving up the post for some time, said his decision was not spurred by any pressure from within or without village government.
Instead, he said he was recultivating a long standing interest in the arts and had recently joined the board of directors of the Parrish Art Museum.
“I thought it would be a good time to step off the ARB and spend time focusing on the Parrish,” he said. “I have enjoyed it, but now it’s someone else’s turn.”
“Cee has done a good job,” said Mayor Brian Gilbride. “I know full well the time and dedication it takes. It’s very easy to stand on the outside and criticize.”
The terms of two other ARB members, Tom Horn Sr. and Bethany Deyermond, also expire this year, as do the terms of two ZBA members, Scott Baker and Jennifer Ponzini. Jeff Peters, a member of the Harbor Committee, has been serving on a holdover status since his term expired in 2013 and the village board did not have the votes to remove him from the post or appoint him to another term.
Just a week ago, on Thursday, April 30, a large crowd turned out at a village board meeting to sound the call for the village to take steps to tighten its zoning code to choke off the proliferation of oversized houses.
Several speakers directed pointed criticism at the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals and the ARB, with much of it aimed directly at Mr. Brown, who is a real estate broker with Corcoran and with his partner, Jack Pearson, is the exclusive representative of the Watchcase condominiums.
Tony Brandt, who served on the village’s original ARB, said the board originally operated under a strict code of ethics, a code he said that would never have allowed a real estate broker to serve as the board’s chairman.
“We’ve become the laughing stock of the rest of the Hamptons because we have such a conflict of interest,” he said, offering to serve another term if the village board so desired.
“I think it is a terrible conflict of interest to have real estate agents and developers on the ARB,” added Judith Long, a Main Street resident, who also volunteered to serve. Bob Weinstein, a Jefferson Street resident, who has been critical of development in his neighborhood, also said he would be willing to serve.
Neil Slevin, a former planning board and ZBA member, offered to recruit members to serve on boards, an offer Mr. Gilbride happily accepted. “I’ve said this to every person I’ve interviewed, you have to be able to say ‘no,’” the mayor said, adding that Mr. Slevin had that characteristic.
Mr. Brown dismissed claims that he was incapable of being an impartial chairman. “If there is any sort of a conflict, I recuse myself,” he said. “I make it well known if I sold the house. I recuse myself even if it is just a paint color.”
He said had consulted with then-village attorney Anthony Tohill, who assured him it would not be a conflict for him to serve. “The company I work for now didn’t even exist out here” when Bulova was reviewed, he added.
Mr. Brown said he hoped members of Save Sag Harbor would follow through on their commitment to serve. “Every time I try to recruit board members, it’s difficult,” he said. “I hope Save Sag Harbor members would put their names forward and get on these boards rather than point fingers and complain. It would be much more constructive.”
He said as chairman he tried to make the ARB “user friendly” by having board members sit at a table instead of at the elevated dais, and by giving applicants the time they need to present their projects.
The job also requires a substantial effort, he added. “It’s not just something you can show up to twice a month,” he said, adding that he stops by the Municipal Building to review plans and visits the sites of projects to better acquaint himself with applications.