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Sag Harbor Residents Hope To Stall Development As Comprehensive Plan Takes Shape

Originally Posted: September 13, 2007

Christine Bellini

Politically inspired buttons claiming Sag Harbor is "not for sale" were for sale at the community meeting Sunday. Photo by C. Bellini

Sag Harbor - Community efforts to "Save Sag Harbor" marched onward Tuesday evening as representatives from a joint panel of grassroots organizations, having gathered Sunday at The Whaler's Church to work in tandem, presented a series of resolutions to village trustees pointedly calling for the extension of the current moratorium on commercial site plan review and the establishment of an updated comprehensive master plan.

In their effort to redirect the perceived "tidal wave of over development" now facing the historic downtown district, over 500 concerned residents filled the pews of The Whaler's Church Sunday afternoon to pool civic resources and map out a game plan.

The open forum, held jointly to steer residents in their outcry over three pending condo developments, efforts by CVS to install a 17,000 square foot version of the local drugstore, and a "take no prisoner" approach seemingly gaining popularity among aggressive landlords increasingly disturbing the status quo among long-standing independent retailers, was instructional and cautionary in tone.

Mia Grosjean assisted Valerie Justin in her report regarding the Ferry Road proposal.

The panel, comprised of spokespersons from The Group for the East End, Tenants in Common, CONPOSH (Coalition of Neighbors for the Preservations of Sag Harbor) and Save Sag Harbor, along with Southampton Planning and Development Administrator Jefferson Murphree and Peconic Baykeeper President Kevin MacAllister, presented a brief synopsis of each group's unique tie-in to critical battle lines now being drawn over future commercial occupation of the village. Maintaining Sag Harbor's unique, independent flavor as the neighboring main streets of East Hampton and Southampton have appeared to fall prey to a systematic infiltration by national retailers is the galvanizing force fueling the local debate.

Calling on a dose of "divine intervention" while motioning to the gathering in the church sanctuary, Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, commended the grassroots energy which has quickly mounted concerning the development issues.

"Being a village official is a rough job. I only suggest that you have a lot of patience with the people you have put in charge." While urging local leaders to "put the brakes on until which time you can address these issues," DeLuca cautioned, "the way to change direction regrettably involves a process and the process takes time."

In direct response to the challenge of warding off the likes of CVS and other large national chains from taking over commercial space in the village, Southampton Town Planning and Development Administrator Jefferson Murphee suggested village official "look to the chinks in the armor" since the big box retailers are more often than not required to meet a series of standards as outlined in their development models "which don't fit with your community. They usually want a large building with single use designation, not multi-usage."

Residents were visably surprised by the scale of the proposed condominium
project being proposed at the base of the bridge.

Identifying such viable comprehensive methods to stall and reshape not only pending but future development in the village is key, according to Murphee.

"Zoning is only one single and limited tool to what happens in your town. Planning is in your vision and you need a code that reflects that vision in your master plan. Without that you don't have a leg to stand on. You just don't say no, we don't want that. You can't regulate that," Murphee advised. "You have to be very clear as to what you want - size, type, mixed uses are absolutely critical, appearance - you set the ground rules that must be adhered to."

It was Sag Harbor resident turned political activist Jim Henry who rallied the attendants with his charge of "franchise terrorism" on the part of "these aggressive landlords" who received the most heartfelt round of applause. Henry has thrown his hat into the political race for Southampton Town Supervisor over these very issues. Citing development in East Hampton and Port Jefferson as examples of poor community planning, Henry asserted, "The best way to plan the future is to invent it," Henry paraphrased computer visionary Alan Kay. "We need a proactive step toward designing the community you would like to have and that's community ownership."

Barbara Roberts spoke to the critical nature of a small business economy in Sag Harbor.

Urging the establishment of a non-profit corporation "in which the community becomes landlords - where you design and set terms of engagement," as a means to forestall unwanted development and preserve community landmarks, Henry admitted "that sounds like socialism to some people - to me it sounds like taking control of your community. The village (officials) is constricted in how closely they can work with us."

Bringing the gathering back to a more moderate center, Lester Ware cautioned residents would be best served "not by putting out fires all over town," but by support and participation in a comprehensive master plan.

Barbara Roberts, speaking on behalf of Save Sag Harbor, concurred, suggesting the organizations pursue "legal and strategic options."

"We have the total ability to control historic preservation, size, parking, appearance," Roberts asserted. "We cannot single out a single business. That will not hold up by law. Our main activity is to reach out to the best lawyers and best planners to help us work through this process."

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