Trustee Candidates Debate as Village Election Looms
By Kathryn G. Menu
The three candidates for two seats on the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees met Saturday morning to debate the issues at the John Jermain Memorial Library before an audience of about 40 residents, weighing in on issues such as affordable housing, parking, and the future of Long Wharf. The trustee candidates, incumbent Kenneth O’Donnell, and political newcomers Aidan Corish and Thomas Gardella, were joined by Mayor Sandra Schroeder, who is running unopposed for a second, two-year term.
The event was sponsored by The Sag Harbor Express, the John Jermain Memorial Library and Save Sag Harbor, with Sag Harbor Express news editor Stephen J. Kotz serving as moderator.
Sag Harbor Village elections will be held on Tuesday, June 20, from 12 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse on Brick Kiln Road.
With the cost of living on the South Fork on the rise, the lack of affordable housing remains one of the biggest issues facing the region.
“Second homes, while they support Main Street part of the year, don’t support Main Street all of the year,” said Mr. O’Donnell, the owner of La Superica restaurant, who is running for a third two-year term on the Residents Party line, alongside Ms. Schroeder and Mr. Gardella. Like Ms. Schroeder, he praised the efforts of the Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust, which is redeveloping the Cottages on Route 114, just outside of Sag Harbor Village. Mr. O’Donnell said he was open to ideas to help provide housing for year-round residents, including the 20 and 30 year olds who are being forced to leave the South Fork. Increasing the availability accessory apartments was one option, he said.
Mr. Corish, the owner of Tangram, a design and branding firm, is running under the Sag Harbor United Party. He said the size of the village makes affordable housing a difficult problem to solve locally, but liked the idea of discussing the options available for accessory apartments. Like Mr. O’Donnell, he said seeing fewer children on village streets was a concern.
“Is the future of our community to be a retirement community?” he asked, noting that if that is the case, the village will need to anticipate the change and craft a plan for the shift in demographics.
“The board has to make it easier for people to stay here year-round,” said Mr. Gardella, a former fire chief and the owner of T. Gardella Plumbing and Heating. He said the fire department’s juniors program has seen a drop in participation as young families leave. “Our department is getting slowly and slowly older, so I am open to any ideas there are to help affordable housing,” he said.
Traffic Safety & Parking
“I would love us to be more of a walking and cycling village,” said Mr. Corish, who called on the village to develop a long term plan to create cycling and walking paths around Sag Harbor. He added that using radar speed control signs, which can broadcast information about speeding vehicles to law enforcement officials, should also be explored.
Mr. Gardella agreed speeding was an issue in Sag Harbor, but said he would only support traffic calming measures that did not impede emergency service vehicles. He said he also supported bike lanes and more sidewalks, but “again, there is only so much money in the budget so we have to come up with creative ideas to deal with that.”
Looking at the issue of parking around the school, Mr. O’Donnell said a meeting was planned on June 22 to troubleshoot that problem, with potential discussions about creating a campus between Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle High School to help alleviate the lack of parking for school employees and students.
“We will be working with the school, which has a larger budget than we do,” he said.
“I think we need an overall study of the whole village and see where we can get extra spaces,” said Mr. Gardella, who supported plans by Trustee Robby Stein to re-stripe the Bridge Street lot behind Main Street and increase parking there by 30 spaces.
“It’s not just the school — we need to study the whole area,” he said.
“I think it is a great example of needing more consultation with all the stakeholders,” said Mr. Corish, who said he would like to see the village create parking zones — some that would charge non-residents a fee to park via an app. He noted the zones could support the different kinds of parking needed by residents and visitors.
Mr. O’Donnell declined to support paid parking, but did suggest the village could look into a trolley system, similar to Hampton Bays. “At one point in time, we raised the possibility of making West Water Street one-way and doubling the spaces down there,” he added, noting that concept was met by resistance by some business owners.
“I am not for paid parking at this time,” said Mr. Gardella.
“Our waters are our lifeblood — that is what drives tourism here,” said Mr. O’Donnell when asked about the potential for funding through the Southampton and East Hampton Town Community Preservation Funds, which voters agreed last fall could be used to help aid local efforts to improve water quality. He noted that just a small portion of the waterfront is in the village’s jurisdiction, but that the village was working to get a “seat at the table” so Sag Harbor’s interests would be included in regional plans to tackle the issue.
Mr. Corish said he would like to see the village pass legislation that demands new construction or substantial renovation projects install low-nitrogen producing septic systems. “For people who are going to renovate their homes, it is their responsibility to install these systems based on best practices,” he said.
Mr. Gardella said he believed his experience as a former fire chief has forged relationships with town leaders that would be beneficial in negotiating for Sag Harbor’s interest in water quality projects. “We need to fight for this money,” he said, noting preserving waterfront parcels like the potential John Steinbeck Waterfront Park next to the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge would aid water quality initiatives.
“I think the whole SANS project and extending the historic district is very important,” said Mr. O’Donnell of the request by the Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, Ninevah subdivisions (SANS) for state landmark designation. “It is a very important part of cultural and Sag Harbor’s history … anything we can do as a community to help concrete that aspect, I would be open to.”
Mr. Corish agreed. “By preserving these neighborhoods or at least by trying to maintain them within a certain scale, we can somehow go a long way toward preserving the rich history that is part of their makeup,” he said.
Mr. Gardella also supported the SANS designation, and said the village should commit to preserving its history, and neighborhoods.
“I have been in this village for over 30 years, have served as a volunteer for over 20 years — this village is very important to me, and it didn’t get any more real for me than on December 16 with that fire on Main Street and seeing this village come together and put that fire out together and support each other … I would like to serve further in this village,” said Mr. Gardella in closing.
“As a candidate, I sit here and ask you for your vote four years removed from when I first asked for it,” said Mr. O’Donnell, after thanking both Mr. Corish and Mr. Gardella for their work in the community. “I promise to work in the best interest of our residents and be a man of my word.”
“As I said earlier, I have four planks — preservation, communication, participation and planning,” said Mr. Corish. “I think everything we do has to be looked at through the lens of Sag Harbor and our SANS neighborhoods. There is never going to be another one and it is our sacred duty to save and manage that. Things are changing around here, the demographics are changing so we have to be very clever in how we manage it. We cannot stop it, but we can manage it.”
Residents will also be asked on Tuesday to vote on whether or not to extend the Length of Service Award Program benefits for members of the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department — an initiative all candidates seeking office supported. If approved, a pension firefighters receive would be increased from $20 per month per year of service to $30 per month.
According to Mayor Schroeder, if approved it would cost an additional $86,000 annually.
North Haven Vote
In North Haven, incumbent Trustees James Laspesa and James Davis are running unopposed for two-year terms on the board of trustees. Mr. Laspesa has served on the board for two full terms. Before that, he was planning board chairman for 26 years. Mr. Davis was appointed to a one-year term in 2013 and has been reelected twice.
Voting takes place from noon to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20, at Village Hall on Ferry Road.