Tag Archive | "Save Sag Harbor"

A Village Works to Maintain Its Balance in Changing Times

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By Kathryn G. Menu

When Greg Ferraris was a child, many storefronts in Sag Harbor were boarded shut. Economic activity was scarce beyond the day-to-day needs of the local community, and residents were less worried about what businesses would come to Sag Harbor than those that would not.

Throughout his life Ferraris watched as the village transformed, anchor stores taking root and art galleries popping up right and left, creating a vibrant, but local business community that was the envy of surrounding towns.

A certified public accountant with Banducci, Katz & Ferraris, Ferraris said in an interview last week that Sag Harbor’s downtown evolved based on what the residents and second homeowners — the market — needed. He added that as things continue to grow, the village will continue on that track.

“I love Sag Harbor the way it was 20 years ago,” said Ferraris. “I love what the village is today. It will constantly adapt. The Village of Sag Harbor is not Disneyland. We can’t control everything, and some changes will be for the better, some will be for the worse.”

For a community that is so protective of its identity, change has not always been embraced by the people of Sag Harbor.

In 2007, with CVS Pharmacy looking to take over a large building on Long Island Avenue, the Village of Sag Harbor set about revamping what was considered an antiquated zoning code to handle the changes looming over Sag Harbor.

Led by then Mayor Ferraris, former Deputy Mayor Tiffany Scarlato, former village attorney Anthony Tohill and environmental planning consultant Rich Warren, the new code aimed to keep Sag Harbor’s downtown the vibrant, unique, walking village it had become.

“We looked at exactly what Sag Harbor was — the demographics, the sizes of stores, the types of stores — and we wanted to ensure what existed then would exist 20 years down the road,” said Ferraris. “Different types of industries and uses could be adapted through the new code, but we wanted to ensure we were not going to have large box stores or one retail store come in and buy four or five businesses and combine them. We wanted to maintain a diversity of uses.”

In 2009, the village enacted its new zoning code.

According to village attorney Denise Schoen, some of the major changes involved preventing office uses on the ground floor in the village business district in an effort to promote retail uses. It also limited the expansion of stores to a maximum of 3,000 square-feet, with the exception of grocery stores, hardware stores or home furnishing outlets, which can petition the village to become larger. The table of uses — definitions of the kinds of stores in Sag Harbor — was also expanded to give the village more oversight on potentially damaging changes to the downtown.

A small office district was also created around the periphery of the village business district to provide a place for new office space.

Offices that already existed on first floors in 2009, as well as businesses above 3,000 square-feet, are considered pre-existing, non-conforming to the code. If they change uses, however, they would have to go before the village boards for approval.

The new code also streamlined the planning process for minor changes happening on Main Street.

Because Sag Harbor Village’s business district is in a historic district, the code also gave sweeping powers to the historic preservation and architectural review board (ARB) to ensure any visible changes were consistent with the overall character of the village.

The code was ultimately supported by much of the business community, as well as Save Sag Harbor — a not-for-profit organization that developed out of concern that large, formula businesses may come into Sag Harbor. However, three years later, as economics have begun to threaten some local businesses, Save Sag Harbor director Susan Mead last week said it might be worthwhile for the village to take a second look at the code.

“But the code revisions the village enacted were very well thought out,” said Mead. “Taking a second look at the code is probably of less importance than taking a look at a Main Street program, the kind that has been used across the country for 30 years.”

Mead said Save Sag Harbor, for its part, would explore creation of a revolving fund dedicated to helping local business thrive, and would possibly consider purchasing key Main Street real estate spaces. It is also looking at Main Street program models and may bring experts into the village for a community conversation.

“Ultimately it will come down to whether or not the general populace of Sag Harbor truly wants it to remain a unique village,” said Mead, “because for this to work it is going to take a lot of private dollars.”

Sag Harbor Village is not alone in its quest to maintain a vibrant business district, and many communities throughout the country have relied on similar ordinances and not-for-profit initiatives to protect their downtowns.

According to Andrea Dono with the National Trust’s Main Street Center in Washington, D.C. commercial district gentrification is when an economy changes and businesses become priced out of a market. What commonly happens, said Dono, is a commercial district suffers from vacant storefronts while landlords seek out businesses that can afford the higher cost of doing business.

“The smartest thing to do is to get property owners to understand that having a sustainable, stable and long-term tenant is a good tenant to have,” said Dono.

In Sag Harbor’s case, Dono said a Main Street program would probably focus on business retention, working with landlords, business owners and the community to make business stronger and more marketable. That way, when rent does rise, as it should in a strong economy, the businesses are able to afford the increases.

In order to start this kind of program, Dono said a market analysis is performed to determine who is using the downtown. It also seeks to discover if businesses are meeting consumer demand and what the overall competitive advantage the business district has over neighboring downtowns.

“Some of our more advanced programs have gotten into becoming non-profit real estate developers, which is excellent,” said Dono. “They develop economic development plans that determine what businesses are important to keep in a community, and what businesses are needed, so you have a clear idea of who you want to rent or sell a property to.”

Often, not-for-profit revolving funds are found in communities that need downtown revitalization.

In Galveston, Texas, the Galveston Historical Foundation created a revolving fund in the 1970s to save what executive director Dwayne Jones called “a declining, and pretty dead, business district.”

According to Jones, the foundation bought buildings in Galveston’s 12-block historic district, restored them and resold them to sensitive developers. Properties were generally sold with deed restrictions, he added, to ensure facades remained in keeping with Galveston’s historic aesthetic.

A case study closer to Sag Harbor Village is Nantucket, Massachusetts.

In Nantucket, the preservation of Main Street has come through a combination of planning and zoning ordinances as well as the work of a not-for-profit group, ReMain Nantucket.

ReMain Nantucket is a philanthropic organization established by Wendy Schmidt, president of the Schmidt Family Foundation, which, according to the organization’s charter, is “dedicated to strengthening the lasting economic, environmental, and social vitality of downtown Nantucket, while preserving its unique character and spirit.”

Focused on looking at transportation solutions, analyzing the downtown and its needs, addressing infrastructure and promoting and encouraging Nantucket’s historic ties to its waterfront, ReMain has also taken on development projects.

In 2007, it purchased Mitchell’s Book Corner in an effort to preserve a decades-old business and re-leased the property to Mary Jennings, a longtime employee of the store. ReMain also established a public-private partnership with the Nantucket Community School to bring adult education to Nantucket’s downtown.

Another not-for-profit, The Nantucket Dreamland Foundation, came together to save a local movie theatre, the Dreamland Theater. The foundation is dedicated to using the theatre space to show films year-round, as well as educational programs, and to showcase performing arts.

However, the work in Nantucket is not just limited to ReMain’s efforts. The Town of Nantucket has historically been committed to preservation, said Nantucket Planning Director Andrew Vorce. In the 1930s, Nantucket received one of the earliest historic district designations in the country, but in recent years the town has also worked to enact zoning provisions that protect the town’s character.

Zoning was first established in Nantucket in 1972, but Vorce said the building standards did not conform to what historically existed on Main Street. In 2003, the code was amended to reduce those standards so that every business owner was not sent to the zoning board of appeals for every application.

In 2006, Vorce said the town adopted a formula business exclusion district around Nantucket’s downtown. Vorce said that in Nantucket the law passed and was upheld in court because there are commercial areas outside of the historic downtown where chain stores are allowed, formula businesses could not argue that they were being kept entirely out of Nantucket.

“We wanted to focus on protecting the critical area and make sure there are other places for chain stores to go,” said Vorce.

According to the legislation, a formula business in Nantucket is defined as a type of retail sales establishment, restaurant, tavern, bar, or take-out food establishment that has 14 of its kind worldwide. It also has two features the town identified as being standard in a formula business, like trademark phrases, signs, standardized menus or uniforms and standardized design concepts.

Vorce noted that if a national chain created a non-standardized version of its store, they could be permitted into the historic business district.

Vorce said the decision to implement the legislation came after Nantucket residents watched as the downtown became geared toward luxury items. A Ralph Lauren store moving into an old weaver’s shop that had long supported local artisans was one of the canaries in the coal mine that led the town to look towards formula business restrictions.

According to former planning director John Pagini, the town also has been committed to regional transit and has also focused on affordable housing initiatives.

Vorce said the work of ReMain has been critical to preserving uses in the downtown that could not have survived the economics of Nantucket. Outside of the book store, Vorce said ReMain has also subsidized a music school and bakery in Nantucket.

“From a planning perspective, you want that mix of business in a downtown,” said Vorce. “It has been a wonderful gift.”

That being said, as Pagini noted, to a certain extent change is inevitable.

“It is something Nantucket has struggled with, but the market has determined what the character of uses are in the downtown, less so our zoning,” said Pagini. “Zoning and architectural controls preserve the façade, but it is the free market we are doing this under.”

Breckenridge, Colorado, perched in the mountains above Denver, faced another issue that planners in Sag Harbor Village tried to circumvent in the 2009 code revision — real estate offices dominating a downtown, taking away from the walk-ability of a village.

“We were really unhappy with how many real estate offices were occupying prime real estate in the downtown,” said Peter Grosshuesch, the manager of the town’s community development department.

Unlike Sag Harbor, Breckenridge was unsuccessful in banning offices on first floors. Grosshuesch said the town was eventually successful in prohibiting residential first floors in the downtown unless they met a 40-foot setback to the street. The town also brought in retailing experts and focused on the curb appeal of storefronts and the downtown in general.

As for formula businesses, while they are not outlawed in Breckenridge, Grosshuesch said they are not exactly welcomed with open arms.

“It’s not a written policy, but the town council has never lifted a finger to help a national chain come in,” he said. “But there are some national chains, so it is not as if we are pure as the driven snow.”

While a Main Street program is possible in Sag Harbor Village, whether or not formula based restrictions will apply is unclear.

John Nolan, a Pace Law School professor said that zoning requirements have to further the public health, safety and welfare of a community in a specific way. It could be argued that it would be difficult to tie a formula business restriction to furthering the public health, safety and welfare of a village, he said.

“It cannot be done to thwart competition,” said Nolan. “If the objective is to keep local businesses in operation, that is different because you cannot use zoning to protect businesses from competition.”

Nolan did say if a municipality could show why public health, safety and welfare is tied to a formula business restriction, it could be successful.

Nolan said communities enacting this kind of regulation have to be wary of federal protection of interstate commerce, prohibiting local municipalities from enacting legislation that threatens interstate commerce.

According to planner Bill Spikowski, of Spikowski Planning Associates in Fort Meyers, Florida, the Village of Sag Harbor has already gone a long way in terms of its zoning code to protect its downtown.

Spikowski is an expert in form-based codes, which unlike the traditional Euclidian zoning, focuses on regulating the physical forms in a downtown to control development rather than try to control development by regulating uses.

“You want small spaces, you want them near the street, and you want parking on the street or behind a downtown,” said Spikowski.

Limiting the size of stores and having strict historic district design standards have traditionally kept out a lot of formula businesses, said Spikowski.

“Those are the things I would recommend if your village was not already doing it, so you may be in pretty good shape,” said Spikowski.

“I think it went far enough,” said Ferraris of Sag Harbor’s new zoning code. “It doesn’t place restrictions on property owners where they cannot use that property as an economic resource, but by limiting square footages you basically guarantee you will have these smaller shops in the future which in turn will restrict the possibility of national chains coming into Sag Harbor. That being said, there probably are spaces on Main Street that are enticing to a national retailer and if that should happen, it will happen.”

“I would say in my mind I consider the code a work in progress,” said current mayor Brian Gilbride. “To me, on Main Street, I can remember Ann Schiavoni being in Schiavoni’s Market, Marty’s Barbershop being where the produce area is now. I remember the Five and Dime when Mr. Hansen was there, and the Sag Harbor Pharmacy as a kid. So is Sag Harbor, changing? Yeah, but I believe Sag Harbor has survived.”

Meeting on Harbor Heights Proposal Rescheduled

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The date for the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board’s highly anticipated public forum on a proposal to expand the Harbor Heights Service Station on Route 114 has been re-scheduled. This came after the village discovered the board would not have a quorum for all applications slated for the Tuesday, January 24 meeting.

The planning board has instead moved the meeting to Tuesday, February 7, where it will convene with a work session at 5:30 p.m. and enter its regular meeting at 6 p.m.

The planning board has asked the public to weigh in on its environmental review of John Leonard’s proposal to re-develop the dilapidated gas station and service station, creating new curb cuts, relocating gas pumps deeper into the property and creating a new convenience store on the site. The forum, noted Sag Harbor Village Environmental Planning Consultant Rich Warren at last month’s planning board meeting, is not meant to bring people to the podium to discuss whether or not they like the project, but rather to make sure the planning board is addressing all potential issues.

Hope to “Save the Windmill”

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web Long Wharf Windmill Damage '11_7454

By Emily J. Weitz

The magic of Sag Harbor’s Main Street is almost impossible to taint, when the Christmas lights twinkle and the garlands are wrapped royally around white columns.

Almost, but not quite.

When storefronts stand vacant and the village’s landmark windmill looks crippled with its broken blade, it seems the recession has finally hit home.

The iconic windmill has been in need of repairs for some time, but when a major windstorm knocked a significant portion of one of the blades down a few weeks ago, its deteriorating condition became harder to ignore. Emails bounced around the circuits of concerned citizens, notably the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Save Sag Harbor.

Now, in a spirit reminiscent of the Sag Harbor Cinema sign restoration several years back, people are poised to pool their energy to save the windmill.

The only question is “How?”

It’s not like the windmill has been completely neglected. Built in the 1960s for the Old Whaler’s Festival, the village just completed a round of repairs including new siding and windows, at a cost of $8,700, according to Phil Bucking, a member of the Chamber of Commerce.

“The next round will include floor repairs, additional wood shingles, and replacement of the windmill blades,” he said in an email. “There are currently bids out on the different phases of the project. Once a blade design has been determined, cost estimates will be needed for them as well.”

Bucking says a contractor is researching a long-lasting design for the blades so they won’t need to be replaced again anytime soon. As for the siding, it’s now “a combination of new and old wood shingles,” says Bucking. “The goal is to re-side the entire building.”

“We want it to stay as a landmark,” says April Gornik, head of the advisory board at Save Sag Harbor, “and it also has to be safe. Blades can’t be falling off. All the blades most likely need to be replaced. There’s a lot to do.”

Because the blade came off in a windstorm, the first question was in regards to insurance, which was not immediately clear.

“I was told emphatically that there was no insurance on the windmill,” says Gornik, “and then I was told the opposite. We still need to establish who is really responsible, and whether there’s insurance, a deductible… Perhaps most importantly a fund needs to be established specific to the windmill. Once that happens, we’re in favor of working with the Chamber to make sure repairs occur.”

Save Sag Harbor has mobilized in the interest of village identity many times, and they are already planning how to raise the necessary funds for the windmill.

“We’d like to do something very family-oriented and fun,” says Gornik, “and have everyone join together because the windmill, like the movie theatre sign and the Whaling Museum, have both sentimental and historical significance to the village.”

Gornik envisions an event at a local restaurant, with lots of donated food and drinks, raffles and auctions.

“We’ll make it fun and big, and have it happen in the winter,” she says. “People need things to do in the winter. It’s just really important that everyone comes together.”

Bucking emphasizes the significance of the windmill as “a Sag Harbor icon. Repairs are needed. While the final cost hasn’t been determined, a project of this scope will cost several thousand dollars.”

The Chamber of Commerce and Save Sag Harbor are collaborating to organize the fundraising event.

“Over the coming weeks,” says Bucking, “the details will be worked out. Volunteers are needed so if anyone is interested in getting involved, they are encouraged to contact the Chamber (725-0011) or Save Sag Harbor (info@savesagharbor.com).”

It does seem, with closing businesses and buildings in need of some upkeep, that there’s a deeper resonance to the disrepair of the windmill.

“It has everything to do with the economy,” says Gornik. “It’s difficult for everyone… It’s hard to get people interested in things like this that might seem superfluous when they’re stressed about the economy. But it’s also a way to celebrate what we are, who we are, what we have and a shared pride we can enjoy in this area. Preserving buildings like this reminds people that we have a lot to be grateful for, and celebrate together. It’s important these things remain in good repair, as a celebration of who we are.”

Save Sag Harbor Proposes Recycling Bins for the Village of Sag Harbor

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North Haven artist April Gornik is drawn to beauty, which is one of the many reasons she lives on the East End. She considers Sag Harbor Village, a community that embraces and strongly protects its waterfront and historic aesthetic, her true home.

Which is why, as a member of the community concerned with protecting the environment, Gornik reached out to the local not-for-profit Save Sag Harbor two years ago in an effort to gain funding for the placement of recycling bins in the Village of Sag Harbor.

“We have an active and visible group of environmentalists in the village and it I thought one of the obvious things we should do is get recycling bins, marked for specific uses, to show that as a citizenry were are involved in environmental protection,” said Gornik in an interview on Tuesday.

After a year of planning, Save Sag Harbor has made a formal request to the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees to allow them to donate three recycling bins to be placed in various locations on Main Street.

The organization has also reached an agreement with Suburban Sanitation owner Ralph Ficorelli, who will be a co-sponsor of the program with Save Sag Harbor, to pick up recyclables collected in the bins for free for one year.

In a letter sent to the village board on June 14, Save Sag Harbor’s Board of Directors asks the board to approve the initiative, and set up a meeting with Ficorelli to decide what locations would be appropriate for the bins, and what kind of pick-up schedule should be adopted for Suburban Sanitation.

“We hope this will be the foundation of a successful and larger program and look forward to working with you,” reads the letter.

Gornik and Save Sag Harbor Board member Susan Meade said on Tuesday that the organization searched out recycling bins that would be appropriate for the Village’s historic aesthetic. They chose a wrought-iron, dark green, rectangular bin with three openings for paper, bottles, cans and plastic, and general garbage.

According to Gornik, they were originally designed by the manufacturer OCC Outdoors to be used in New York’s historic Westchester County.

The Ladies Village Improvement Society of Sag Harbor was consulted on the design and according to Gornik and Mead has signed off on their aesthetic.

Gornik added the tops of bins are sized for their contents — a small, rectangular slot for newspapers, a small circular hole for bottles, cans and plastic and a small square for general refuse, making it difficult for people to dump even small bags of garage in the containers causing them to fill more quickly with non-recycled waste.

About a year ago, the board of Save Sag Harbor unanimously voted to purchase three of the containers for the Village of Sag Harbor. The containers will cost between $1,700 and $1,800 a piece, said Gornik, but are durable and will stand the test of time.

Mead said the board immediately decided to reach out to Suburban Sanitation, rather than place the responsibility of emptying the containers on the shoulders of the village’s Department of Public Works, viewing this ultimately as a one-year pilot program.

In January, Ficorelli agreed to donate his services. A small logo from Suburban Sanitation as well as Save Sag Harbor will be placed on the sides of the containers before they are given to the village, said Mead.

The location is up to the village, she added.

“Frankly, that an organization is offering to give them to the village is just great, but we feel like it is important that no one feels like this is being foisted on them,” said Gornik. “It’s a gift and I hope everyone sees this as something that can beautify the village.”

“We are happy to work with the village in any way to make sure this is something that they want us to do,” said Mead.

As for the on-going national debate over whether recyclables are actually being recycled in the face of dwindling returns on recyclable materials by companies that perform the duty, Gornik said she had faith in companies like Suburban Sanitation and that residents should continue to do their part.

“If you don’t try and make an effort and stand up for what you believe in, and take part in protecting the environment, you are truly a part of the problem,” said Gornik. “You have to stand up for what you believe in and trust the businesses in your community will do what they say they will do. Suburban Sanitation is a business I trust.”

The Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees is expected to address the correspondence from Save Sag Harbor at its Tuesday, July 12 meeting.

County Waffling on Long Wharf Sale

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By Kathryn G. Menu

Since last fall, the fate of the iconic Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, a county road operated by the Village of Sag Harbor through a lease that expired this past winter, has been in constant state of flux.

On Tuesday, with its impending sale to the Village of Sag Harbor tabled by the Suffolk County Legislature, it appears the county still hasn’t made up its mind about what to do with the wharf, much to the frustration of Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride.

“You have to make up your mind,” said Gilbride on Wednesday morning. “Since this past fall, this has gone from the county wanting us to take the wharf for a dollar and give us $600,000 for long term maintenance, to the county giving it to us, but only with half that money, to the county saying we have to take the wharf and fix it ourselves. And now that County Executive Steve Levy is out of the running for another term, the county is saying, ‘Maybe we will keep it.’”

After much back and forth between Levy’s office, Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Gilbride, in February the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees agreed to purchase Long Wharf from Suffolk County and take on the long-term maintenance costs associated with the facility. The village already pays for annual maintenance like re-striping parking spaces, winterization of the floating docks and general upkeep.

According to Gilbride, the village collects revenue from dockage at the wharf, which last year topped $95,000, but often the village brings in far less and certainly not enough to offset the cost of long term maintenance of Long Wharf which over the next decade could cost the village $621,000, according to a report compiled by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works.

Planning to create a dedicated reserve account to cover those costs, Gilbride said he was frustrated to learn the county legislature has now stalled on the Levy-sponsored bill to sell the wharf to the village, and Schneiderman admits he too was surprised by the outcome.

“The village seemed ready, but reluctant to take it and my position was I was ready, but reluctant to give it away,” said Schneiderman on Wednesday morning. “I would have preferred the county continue to maintain it with a village lease, but I fear if that happened it would not be maintained properly.”

Schneiderman said he did not vote to table the measure.

With the county in what Schneiderman called “very difficult financial times,” he said he was unsure the county would be able to afford the estimated $100,000 it spends annually on Long Wharf’s upkeep. With the wharf likely in need of being re-bulkheaded at some point — a costly project, said Schneiderman — the county legislator said he tried to explain to his colleagues that the wharf would have maintenance costs that exceed its current revenue.

On Tuesday, in session, Schneiderman said the discussion was not focused as much on giving the wharf away, but more a questioning of why the county would give away an asset it could make money from, through, for example, charging for parking on Long Wharf.

“I explained that could severely hurt local business, and in particular Bay Street Theatre,” said Schneiderman. “It could have an impact on the vitality of the downtown area, and typically the county is about revitalizing downtown areas.”

“To me it makes sense to have the village manage and own it and determine its future,” he said, adding it is his hope that at the June 7 meeting of the legislature they will vote to do just that.

Gilbride questioned whether the county would legally be able to have paid parking on Long Wharf should they decide to keep it for themselves, but also wondered how would it be enforced.

“And if you put county, paid parking down there, Bay Street Theatre might as well close its doors now,” said the mayor. “All we are doing on our end is trying to protect our theatre and our business district.”


Septic Law Goes Back to the Drawing Board

A proposed law aimed at protecting the health of the Peconic Estuary through regulation in the Village of Sag Harbor that would require homeowners have their septic or wastewater treatment systems checked once every three years will go back to the drawing board, according to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride.

The draft law would have required residents to have any in-ground cesspool, septic tank or drain field inspected once every three years, starting four years after the law is adopted by the board.

An impetus for creating the draft law, said trustee Robby Stein, is that the county is looking specifically at Sag Harbor and three other waterfront communities that have sewage treatment plants to see if the plants should be expanded in an effort to reduce the number of in-ground septic systems on the waterfront.

“I think it is a little too much for us,” said Gilbride of the draft law. “I think we need to have some more discussion about this and then re-introduce a new law.”

Former mayor Pierce Hance said he would like to see a needs assessment study performed on the waterfront to see if nitrogen loading is in fact happening because of in-ground septic systems before the village moves forward.

Save Sag Harbor Hopes for Recycling Bins

Local not-for-profit Save Sag Harbor would like to install three recycling bins, each with a container for glass, paper and general trash, on Main Street, Sag Harbor this summer.

According to Save Sag Harbor President Mia Grosjean, the organization would pay for the cost of the three containers as well as regular pick-up service, which, after the village board meeting on Tuesday night, she said may be donated for one year by a provider the group has a tentative agreement with.

“Someone has to take care of it,” said Gilbride. “That was my issue the last time this came up.”

He added as long as the village could be assured someone would regularly clean the bins and pick up the recycling and trash, he was fine with the concept.

Thiele Asks for License Refund for Charter Boat Owners

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. has asked the New York State Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Joseph Martens to refund the $400 fee many charter and party boat operators have already paid for a 2011 Saltwater Fishing license.

The State Legislature has repealed the license, however, according to Thiele, a number of captains had already paid the fee for 2011 before the repeal. The State has already authorized refunds for individual lifetime license holders.

“Charter boats in New York already pay the State of New York a $250 fee for a charter boat license, in addition to the repealed $400 saltwater fishing license,” said Thiele in a press release issued late last week. “The $400 fee should be returned. The $250 is already a higher cost of doing business for charter boats than most neighboring states.”

Volunteerism is Alive and Well in Sag Harbor

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“Sag Harbor Village and the surrounding area does not seem apathetic,” Gail Slevin said on Sunday. “It is hard to walk down Main Street without being stopped to sign a petition every day.”

For Slevin, getting involved in some of the numerous causes championed by village residents began when local activist Mia Grosjean knocked on her door in the early 1990s, looking for support for traffic calming on Route 114 coming into Sag Harbor.

The very next day, said Slevin, two women showed up at her door dressed as cows, decrying development of the Cilli Farm.

And that was just the beginning for Slevin, who is a member of the Friends of the John Jermain Memorial Library and the Sag Harbor Tree Fund, among other village organizations. Slevin joined over 50 village residents of a similar spirit at Sunday afternoon’s Save Sag Harbor-sponsored community meeting, which was conceived to bring together the dozens of village volunteer organizations together to update each other on goals and fundraisers, some finding common ground and an inspiration to work together on future projects.

“As I see Sag Harbor, it is a real American village with a real American can-do spirit,” said Grosjean, who is president of Save Sag Harbor, the organization that sponsored the forum. Grosjean noted Sag Harbor is home to over 20 volunteer-centered organizations, and it is incumbent on organizations such as these to tackle issues communities can’t delegate to its local government.

“Realizing many hands do make light work,” Save Sag Harbor decided to host the forum, said Grosjean, to bring the village’s varied groups together.

Gigi Morris, who has developed the local environmental group 725-GREEN, opened the meeting by discussing the work her fledgling organization has begun in an effort to create a more sustainable Sag Harbor.

“I am hoping people will start taking ownership of this as we paint our village green,” she said, noting several businesses are looking at putting solar panels on their roofs, and since the organization started offering them, at least 40 residents have had home energy audits in the hopes of reducing their carbon footprint. The group is also looking to help the Sag Harbor Historical and Whaling Museum develop a village-wide green festival out of its second annual energy fair in July.

“I hope we can have community forums regularly,” said Morris, noting it would be beneficial for community groups to act “proactively and progressively as one group, and not as separate groups.”

Morris’s 725-GREEN was one of several environmental groups present at Sunday’s event. Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, the Peconic Baykeeper, the Sag Harbor Tree Committee and the Dark Sky Society also had representatives on hand.

While he may have butted heads with Sag Harbor officials over the last three years over the possibility of a stormwater runoff problem at Havens Beach, Peconic Baykeeper Kevin MacAllister told the crowd on Sunday that he was committed to working with the village towards a solution at the popular bathing beach.

“There are problems in the ditch – no question about it,” said MacAllister, who vowed to continue testing at the site with the help of Stony Brook Southampton associate professor Chris Gobler through the summer season.

“We need people to participate because apathy is going to destroy our village, destroy our quality of life and destroy our waterways,” said MacAllister.

Ken Dorph, literally wearing several hats on Sunday – including the frog of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt (FLPG) – advocated not only for that organization’s mission towards the preservation, stewardship and appreciation of the Long Pond Greenbelt, but also updated the crowd on his hopes for a Safe Routes to School program in Sag Harbor and announced a lecture on the Middle East later this summer at the John Jermain Memorial Library.

The FLPG, which holds educational walks, keeps the Greenbelt clean and actively removes invasive species from the 600-acre preserve, has also been responsible for a grasslands restoration project at Vineyard Field, located just behind the South Fork Natural History Museum off the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike.

Wearing a bike helmet, Dorph also expressed his hopes that Sag Harbor will eventually benefit from federal Safe Routes to School funding and called on village officials to develop a master plan to deal with traffic calming projects throughout Sag Harbor.

Safe Routes to School is a federally funded program that encourages biking and walking to school – an environmental benefit, but also a measure to cut down on the high incidences of childhood obesity in the United States. Sag Harbor Village, with the help of Dorph, made strides last year to benefit from the program, but did not meet the application deadline, losing out on hundreds of thousands in funds had the application been approved, said Dorph.

“That cycle of funding is over, but I have talked to Congressman [Tim] Bishop and we may be able to get in on the next round,” said Dorph.

He credited Mayor Greg Ferraris for attempting to implement traffic calming on Jermain Avenue, which connects the schools in Sag Harbor to Mashashimuet Park, but said he would like to see a master plan implemented by village officials to address roadways.

The forum also hosted a number of community organizations including the cancer resource center Fighting Chance, the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, the Sag Harbor Youth Committee, The Retreat, the Mashashimuet Park Board and Youth Advocacy and Resource Development (YARD). Groups like the Sag Harbor Historical Society and the Old Burial Ground Committee also explained their missions towards preserving Sag Harbor history.

The Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor (CONPOSH) represents an umbrella organization of sorts, advocating and hosting forums on any issue brought up in Sag Harbor from water quality to traffic to development. CONPOSH will also host a “Meet the Candidates” forum on June 7 to inform the community about candidates running for office in Sag Harbor.

Similarly, Save Sag Harbor was formed two years ago in an effort to preserve the mom-and-pop character of the village’s business district, but has evolved into an organization that also promotes community events and organization, and keeps its membership, which is in the thousands, updated via e-mail on government and community news.

Supportive of the village’s zoning code revision – legislation just weeks away from adoption – Grosjean said the organization’s focus would return to promoting Main Street, Sag Harbor through a marketing campaign.

“We realize without a Main Street that is alive and well, this is not Sag Harbor,” said Grosjean. 


Questions on New Code Remain

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By Marissa Maier

It was 15 minutes before the public hearing on the proposed new village zoning code, but Sag Harbor’s municipal meeting room was already filled to capacity. Members of Save Sag Harbor and the Sag Harbor Business Association waved to one another as they took their seats. Others talked in huddled groups. When the mayor and village trustees took their seats, the crowd hushed.

It was nearly two years ago that trustee Tiffany Scarlato and mayor Greg Ferraris began exploring a revision of the village code, which was last fully updated in the 1980s.

The code was full of inconsistencies and outdated provisions, said Ferraris. Over the years the code had been amended in a patchwork fashion, added Scarlato. Unprecedented development projects like the proposed condo complex at the Bulova factory and CVS’ purported interest in opening a store in the village has further brought the code issue to the forefront in the community.

Scarlato and Ferraris hired village attorney Anthony Tohill and planning consultant Richard Warren to research planning materials, zoning law and concepts. The final product of their work was compiled in “Planning Strategies for the Incorporated Village of Sag Harbor” a document which became a comprehensive plan for the new village zoning code.

The revised code was officially proposed in the spring of 2008. Since then the code has been revised based on public comments gathered at previous public forums.
At the end of his opening statement on Thursday, January 29, Ferraris said he hoped to facilitate a dialogue between the board and the public. Ted Conklin, a member of the Sag Harbor Business Association and owner of The American Hotel, was the first community member to speak.

“The vision of the future Sag Harbor is not terribly different from one camp to the other … But [the association] believes this code will put small businesses in peril,” said Conklin referencing a document prepared for the group by EEK architects, who studied the new code.

In the report, Stanley Eckstut of EEK cited the 3,000 maximum square footage allowance for ground floor business, codifying permitted retail space uses and hindering office uses on second floors in the village business district as measures that would hurt village economics.

“Creating rules that make it difficult to lease the ground floors for active paying tenants will jeopardize the ability of the buildings to remain financially viable,” wrote Eckstut who also referenced a provision in the code which prohibited creating new offices on the second floor in the VB or Village Business District.

“Restricting the upper floors from accommodating the very uses that are considered objectionable on the ground floor is counterproductive,” wrote Eckstut.

But the board countered Eckstut’s concern by noting that the code will soon be revised and building owners will be permitted to create office or residential space on the second floor of their building, as long as they visit the building department for a new Certificate of Occupancy with the stated use.

Further, board members said that if a retail space is under 3,000 square feet and an owner wants to change from one permitted use to another, the building department will give the owner a waiver to change the use. The owner would not have to visit the planning board, the board noted, because the change doesn’t require a site plan review.

Phil Bucking, whose sister, Lisa Field, runs the Sag Harbor Variety Store, said it would be harder for her to sell the business in the future because the store is over 3,000 square feet.

Ferraris said that if the Variety Store was turned into another permitted use, they would visit the planning board and request a waiver for the site plan review. The waiver would most likely be granted, as long as the change of use didn’t include an expansion, added capacity or required additional parking or sewage usage. These conditions would require a new site plan review of the space.

“Under the proposed code, the process is formalized and streamlined,” said Ferraris following the hearing. “Before, a lot was left up to the building inspector, but now there is a process.”

Conklin asked for the planning board to have a time schedule for applications and site plan reviews, and also a fee cap.

After the meeting, Scarlato said this wouldn’t be feasible because the village doesn’t have in-house planning staff who work on a regular basis. Instead, the village out-sources planning and engineering work.

David Lee, who manages a number of Main Street buildings, spoke out against a provision in the code which he said gave the ARB (Architectural Review Board) the power to review the interiors of retail spaces.

Tohill, however, later read from the code and stated the ARB has no such power.
In an advertisement that appears in this week’s issue of the Express, the Sag Harbor Business Association asks the village to “delay implementing the office district until we know the impact.”

Association member Jeff Sander asked the board to conduct a comprehensive review of the business owner’s specific concerns. A hefty list of business and property owners who are either against the code, or still on the fence, is included in the advertisement.
Save Sag Harbor’s lawyer Jeff Bragman agreed with the business association on the need to permit office and residential uses on the second floor, and congratulated the board on this revision.

“I thought the hearing was very impressive,” said Bragman later. “I think the board has done a good job at incorporating public comment into the code.”

Save Sag Harbor member Robert Stein, however, wished the code was more restrictive in regards to neighborhood density for daycare facilities and bed-and-breakfasts. Recognizing this concern after the hearing, Ferraris said the village was exploring revising this provision of the code. In the current draft of the code, both establishments need to alert neighbors in a 200 foot radius that they will set-up shop. Ferraris, however, proposes changing this to a 500 foot radius.

Despite the many divergent views that have surfaced throughout the code process, several community members spoke out to express a similar vision for Sag Harbor — one in which the village remains a pedestrian friendly, historical and commercially diverse place.

“I think everyone wants the code to be satisfactory for all the parties involved,” said Save Sag Harbor member April Gornick.

The next public hearing on the code will be held Friday, February 13 at 5 p.m. at the municipal building on Main Street.

New Code Sparks Praise and Scorn

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By Marissa Maier

When Jeff Sander started visiting Sag Harbor as a child in the 1940s and 1950s, the village was far from the destination it is today. Sander recalls a village with boarded up storefronts, closed factories, and a dilapidated wharf.

In those desperate times, who would have guessed that nearly 40 years later the village would be economically thriving, and a beacon of Hampton’s architectural and historical character. A few years ago, the village was doing so well that CVS Pharmacy was interested in leasing a Long Island Avenue space.

Barry Marcus, co-owner of the Sag Harbor Pharmacy, remembers the day in the summer of 2007 when a CVS representative visited the shop and offered to buy out the smaller pharmacy before CVS moved in.

“I told him ‘You can’t offer me enough to make me leave this business. I am not going to abandon Sag Harbor,’” said Marcus. For many local residents, the potential for CVS to gobble up the local “mom-and-pop” pharmacy was a symbol of how the village was vulnerable to encroaching commercial development. The pharmacy was a particularly poignant example because it has operated out of the same Sag Harbor building since the 19th century.

Even before CVS, village trustee Tiffany Scarlato and mayor Greg Ferraris were aware that Sag Harbor’s patchwork zoning code needed to be updated and streamlined, and also address public outcry over big box stores. The code hadn’t been fully revised since the early 1980s and Ferraris said it was filled with “contradictions and loopholes.”

It wasn’t until spring 2008 that a new village code was proposed, and by mid-summer a comprehensive plan was available for the public to review.

With the current draft of the new code, village officials hope to maintain the tenuous balance between protecting the character of Main Street, with its lack of formula stores and small-town feel, while also promoting the village’s development and economic viability.

The new code seeks to redefine the village’s several districts, including a residential district, a resort motel district, a waterfront district, a village business (VB) district and an office business (OB) district. Of these districts, the ones that have received the most public scrutiny have been the VB and OB. The VB is mainly located on Main Street and includes all of the peripheral business sites around the village. The OB is also located in areas on the periphery of Main Street, specifically on Long Island Avenue and Division and Meadow streets.

All of the types of businesses found on Main Street today will still be permitted to operate in the VB district, except for professional offices and business, like banks and real estate agencies. Should a new bank or real estate agency seek to open in the village, these businesses would need to operate in the OB district.

Under New York State Law, the village cannot explicitly ban big box or formula stores. The new code, however, discourages big box and formula stores from setting up shop in the village by limiting the size of stores and restricting formula signage.

The size of a retail space is capped at 3,000 square feet in the new code. If a business 3,000 square feet or less wanted to change their store from one permitted use, like a clothing store, to another permitted use, like a music store, they wouldn’t need site plan approval from the village boards. Instead, the owner would simply visit the building department to change to another permitted use.

There is also a square footage exception for supermarkets, hardware stores and furniture stores which are given a maximum 8,000 square feet.

“We made some exceptions for the things that already exist like the hardware store, Schiavoni’s and Fishers [Antiques], so these would not be made pre-existing non-conforming [under the new code] if someone wanted to buy those spaces,” said Scarlato.

One provision under the code also states that any office on the second floor of a VB building must be an accessory office to the ground floor business, and not used for a separate business.

These provisions of the new code have received both praise and criticism from local organizations.

The Sag Harbor Business Association applauds the village for trying to stave off big box stores, but worries that the other size restrictions and the VB and OB usage restrictions will hurt local business.

“In an economic downturn, business owners try to get any tenants that they can, but they are limited in the types of business they can operate in their retail space,” said Sander, a North Haven Village Trustee and member of the Sag Harbor Business Association who fears that the code goes to an extreme in determining how local businesses operate.

“I think economics are going to dictate how Sag Harbor evolves,” he said. “If people want the five-and-ten they will shop there, but if people want an upscale chain store then that is the kind of establishment that will survive.”

In a letter written to the Sag Harbor Board of Trustees on December 8, 2008, Robert Evjen, President of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, and Robert Fisher, director of the Sag Harbor Business Association, asked the board to “only address the actions effecting superstores” and shelve the other code changes until “we all see where the economy is headed.”

Another group, the Save Sag Harbor organization, however, feels it is imperative to have a new code enacted as soon as possible.

“It is our single best shot to keep big stores out,” said Mia Grosjean, president of Save Sag Harbor.

“This is not a radical code,” added Jeffrey Bragman, the lawyer for Save Sag Harbor. “For people who deal with zoning codes, it’s pretty much down the middle. It supplies the kind of detail and clarity in procedure that is long overdue.”

Save Sag Harbor would also like to see stores under 3,000 square feet changing from one permitted use to another still go before the planning board.

“It would be an administrative site plan review,” said Bragman. “We want it to go through some kind of process so that the village has a record of it.”

“The code is a longtime overdue,” said pharmacist Marcus, who said other merchants share some of his views. He concedes, however, that “you are going to have pluses and minuses.”

Members from local organizations are likely to appear at the January 29 public hearing on the new zoning code, which will be held at the Sag Harbor Municipal Building at 5 p.m. The code is available for review at www.sagharborny.gov.


Seeking to Support Main Street

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An update on proposed changes to the Sag Harbor Village code evolved on Sunday into a discussion about how the village’s businesses can best market themselves, during Save Sag Harbor’s community meeting at the Old Whalers Church.

Save Sag Harbor, which has organized a campaign urging residents and visitors to “Shop Locally” and has also brought representatives from the National Trust here to talk about opportunities to make the village more appealing for visitors, has been following the village’s development of its code revisions, with an eye toward protecting the Main Street character.

The code is preparing to go into a State Environmental Quality Review, attorney Jeff Bragman told the 40 or so members of the community who attended the meeting. Bragman has been hired by Save Sag Harbor to review the code for its membership.

Bragman was generally bullish on the code, saying it had the “look, feel and structure” of a modern planning document.

“I think it’s important that this revision go through,” Bragman said. “This village has a history of cronyism and poor environmental review. This is a dramatic step forward.”

The proposed revisions, however, have suffered some criticism, notably from the Sag Harbor Business Association, which has said the changes will create too restrictive an environment and will limit what property owners can do with their commercial buildings.

“I know there’s a lot of talk about the economy, but that is not a rational cause for not accepting the code,” said Bragman. “Zoning is the bedrock of this village. It is charming, it is preserved, it is one of the last real Main Streets on the East End.”

The changes, Bragman maintained, will in fact enhance people’s interest in investing in the village.

Renee Shafransky asked if there could be legislation that would prevent big corporate stores from coming into the village.

“It’s tricky,” conceded Bragman. The safer way would be to include certain prohibitions that would be the same for all business types, designing some of those to address what is harmful about formula stores.

“Can you enumerate what you don’t like in formula stores and weave that into the legislation,” observed Bragman. “The new code as it is written has defensible language that restricts signage, for example.”

Michael Eicke, a member of the Business Association, was critical of the efforts SSH has made in reaching out to the business community.

“I’m concerned that you never really contacted us, the business people,” said Eicke. “I thought you would have gone shop to shop asking them what their idea of the future is.”

“We met with many businesses and the Business Association several times,” countered SSG board member Susan Mead.

“We did bring in the National Trust, which was meant as a bold step forward, to get the community to think in a big way what can be done,” said SSH board member Jayne Young. “I personally visited half the stores on Main Street.”

Frank D’Angelo, owner of Emporium Hardware, noted that when the group urges residents to “Shop Locally,” they are preaching to the converted. He agreed that some of the businesses could use “a little help” and questioned the code’s restriction requiring stores be less than 8,000 square feet.

“That’s a lot of building in Sag Harbor,” observed Bragman.

“No it’s not,” urged D’Angelo, who said the building that currently houses 7-Eleven and other stores could become an anchor grocery store that would attract people to the village consistently.

“There are a lot of people who do their shopping out of the area,” said D’Angelo.

SSH President Mia Grosjean said the group is making an effort to communicate with the business community and that they are willing to help coordinate marketing ideas for the village to get customers to Main Street now.

To that end, Mead suggested her group contact the approximately 1700 people in their email list to find a marketing expert who could work with Save Sag Harbor and the business community, to promote the idea of the value of shopping in Sag Harbor.

“Part of it is perception,” observed SSH board member April Gornik. “There are a lot of wealthy people but this is truly a very diverse business community. The perception in America is that if you don’t get your stuff at Wal-Mart you’re getting ripped off.”

At top, attorney Jeff Bragman encourages members of Save Sag Harbor to support revisions to the village’s zoning code.


Sag Trustees Extend Moratorium Six Months

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The Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees extended a commercial moratorium in the village another six months on Wednesday, November 12, although according to trustee Tiffany Scarlato, this is the last time the board expects it will need to extend the moratorium, as it hopes to adopt a new zoning code before June.

The moratorium has been in place since June of 2007, and now legally can continue through June 2009. It was put in place as the village began discussing rewriting its zoning code, which had not been updated since the early 1980s.

“We have a zoning code we believe will be the one scheduled for public hearing,” said Scarlato last Wednesday. “I am anticipating, certainly by the end of 180 days, we will have that completed.”

“Hopefully sooner rather than later,” said trustee Brian Gilbride.

The new code, drafted by Sag Harbor Village Attorney Anthony Tohill and village environmental planning consultant Richard Warren has been met with both support and criticism since it was unveiled in the beginning of May. Preliminary recommendations for the draft code were presented in the fall of 2007.

Many members of the business community have expressed concerns that the new code may have been too restrictive, while other organizations have supported the re-write, which was conceived to protect the historic character of the commercial district, and maintain the diversity of uses that currently exist.

The draft code — which suggests shrinking the village business district to encompass primarily Main and Bay streets, creates an office district surrounding the core commercial district, restricts size of stores and addresses some affordable housing initiatives on its very surface — went through a number of revisions since May during a series of public meetings. But according to Scarlato, it is unlikely any more large revisions will be made to the code.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Mia Grosjean, president of Save Sag Harbor — a community organization that formed over concerns about over-development in the village and the threat of an influx of chain stores — spoke, asking the code be approved “as soon as possible.”

She also gave the board draft language out of Southold that she says might more adequately deal with the concern Save Sag Harbor members have over the possibility of chains like CVS or Ralph Lauren setting up shop on Sag Harbor’s mom and pop Main Street.

“We have had a lot of dialogue about the new code and I think it has been very effective,” said Sag Harbor Business Association member Jeff Sander, wondering if there would be more review of the code and a required environmental review.

Ferraris explained that the board is expecting to receive an environmental impact statement by December, after which public hearings on the impact statement, the draft code and the comprehensive plan will be held.

In other news, for the second meeting in a row, Gilbride faced off against a representative from Maran Corporate Risk Insurance Associates. Steve Maietta approached the board trying to understand why Gilbride would ask the board to change the village’s insurance broker, abandoning its contract with Maran in favor of using Jeffrey Brown of Dayton Ritz and Osborne Insurance. Last month, at Gilbride’s urging, the board adopted a resolution making the change with mayor Greg Ferraris and trustee Ed Deyermond abstaining on the change.

Maietta told the board last Wednesday that he had submitted a proposal to Gilbride — a proposal he says shows that the change to Dayton Ritz and Osborne saves the village virtually no money.

Gilbride began by saying he had not seen the proposal until the evening of the village board meeting, but Maietta countered that he had a discussion with Gilbride earlier in the week when the trustee admitted he had the document, but did not want to open it. Maietta continued to maintain making the switch would save the village no money and therefore wondered why Gilbride would ask for the change.

Gilbride countered the switch would save the village $1,000, although Maietta disagreed with the figure.

As the board adopted the resolution last month, Dayton Ritz and Osborne is already officially the village’s insurance broker. The change in no way affects the village’s insurance or the cost for insurance.