New Challenge to Legality of Tiny Sag Harbor Park

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A view of Nancy Boyd Willey Park in August 2017. Michael Heller photo

By Christine Sampson

As the Sag Harbor Planning Board geared up last week for a vote to approve a preliminary subdivision plan for the 4 acres owned by Barry and Carol Magidoff on the south end of Main Street, one local business owner spoke up with a claim he insisted should influence the project, all centered around a tiny slice of land known as Nancy Boyd Willey Park.

Robert Reid, one of the owners of the Reid Brothers auto repair shop on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, called the Planning Board’s attention to the decision of Suffolk County to straight the road back in the 1970s. He cited county law that he says should have mandated the county sell the resulting surplus land to the adjacent homeowners.

Instead, the little slice of land that remained was sold to Sag Harbor Village and eventually became the Nancy Boyd Willey Park, which has been planted with flowers by dedicated volunteers as a gateway into Sag Harbor Village and a memorial to a beloved community member.

“The deed that Sag Harbor got says it is restricted to uses as a park,” Mr. Reid told the board, arguing that the Magidoffs should have been able to purchase what later became the park. “Mr. Magidoff should have the right to subdivide his property and do what he wants, but he can’t. Suffolk County broke the law and created the park.”

But Denise Schoen, the planning board’s attorney, said she spent extensive time researching the issues when the Magidoffs first began the subdivision process. They intend to split their land into four lots, with a common driveway and frontage on a county right-of-way that still exists after the road was straightened. Mr. Reid believes the Magidoffs do not have that frontage and instead are relying on a neighbor’s right-of-way for access to their property.

“They do have rights to go the way they want to go. … I’m confident they have frontage on a county right-of-way,” Ms. Schoen told the board.

The board proceeded to approve the Magidoffs’ preliminary subdivision plan. Their next steps include mapping work, county health department review, drafting required scenic easements and more.

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Mr. Reid insisted the village is in the wrong.

Nancy Boyd Willey Park was dedicated in 1996 to Nancy Boyd Willey, a community activist and advocate for historic preservation. Michael Heller photo

“The park is the issue,” he said. “I’d like to see the village obey the law as it’s written. I’m a taxpayer in the village. I don’t want to see the village get sued. It will just cost me money as a taxpayer.”

Mayor Sandra Schroeder said by phone this week she does not see “how it could have been improper.”

The park itself has been beautified with flowers this season by the Sag Harbor Historical Society, which received a donation to continue doing so from Priscilla Ciccariello, a former Sag Harbor resident who was active in the community before moving to Montauk two years ago. The Ladies Village Improvement Society has also been active in the past in planting flowers to keep it looking lovely, while Sag Harbor Village crews mow and provide general maintenance.

Ms. Ciccariello is in the process of putting together a pamphlet about the park, detailing its history, sharing historical records, acknowledging those who helped over the years and documenting it in photos.

Aware of Mr. Reid’s claims, Ms. Ciccariello said she has documentation proving the park’s legality, and said Nancy Boyd Willey Park must remain.

“You don’t dedicate something to someone and then let it drift away,” she said. “It’s as important as the cinema, it’s as important as the bridge named after the young man killed in [Iraq]. It’s the way you learn history, the way you understand the meaning of things that are important to a community. It’s so important to our values to preserve the things that are established.”

The park was created in 1996 in honor of Nancy Boyd Willey, who led the charge for historic recognition in the village and for the protection of Ligonee Creek and the Long Pond Greenbelt.

“It’s welcoming, something to smile about as you make your way into the village,” Mayor Schroeder said. “All of us we know why it’s there, to honor Nancy Boyd Willey. She was a wonderful lady. It’s so special to us.”

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