An Agitated Public Seeks Disclosure of Bay Street’s Plans

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A rendering of the proposed new Bay Street Theater from John Steinbeck Waterfront Park. ROGER FERRIS + PARTNERS

Unease, fueled by rumors that well-heeled supporters of Bay Street Theater have been quietly snapping up real estate in Sag Harbor’s business district with plans for a major redevelopment project, continued to grow in the village this week.

That wariness has played out in dueling phone-call campaigns to Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy, a flurry of letters to The Sag Harbor Express, discussions on Facebook, and finally, announcements that both the Village Board and Friends of Bay Street, the not-for-profit formed to find the theater a new home, would hold public forums on the subject in the coming weeks.

The Village Board meeting will be at 3 p.m. on Friday at Steinbeck Waterfront Park and focus more on general waterfront development issues, while Friends of Bay Street plan a town hall style meeting at the theater at 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 1, to discuss their plans.

This week, Adam Potter, Friends of Bay Street’s chairman, declined a request for an interview, and said he would not speak to the media until his group holds its forum. “We think it’s better to let everything cool down,” he said.

Mr. Potter remains tight-lipped about the source of Friends of Bay Street’s funding, although the names of several major New York City developers have been circulating on the street.

Up until now, he has been equally tight-lipped about the makeup of the group’s board of directors, but he acknowledged that Pamela Newman of New York is no longer involved with the group, leaving only Mr. Potter and Tracy Mitchell, Bay Street’s executive director, on the board. He said he was looking for a replacement for Ms. Newman.

Mayor Mulcahy said her office had received about 90 calls last Thursday, about evenly divided between supporters for the theater’s plan to build a new home on the site of the 7-Eleven convenience store and those who are worried about what the impact of the rumored broader project will have on the village.

Mayor Mulcahy said while the calls meant more work for staff in the Municipal Building, it proved to be “one of the most invigorating days I have had in some time” because it gave her the opportunity to speak to a number of constituents who are concerned about the village’s future.

She said that most people who were calling on behalf of Bay Street were perfunctory, simply informing the clerks who answered the phone that they supported the theater’s plan to build a new home in the Water Street Shops complex. Those who were concerned about the scope of Bay Street’s plans tended to say they supported the theater, but wanted to make sure the village was actively planning a response to control development, she said.

“There are a lot of rumors out there and they don’t know what’s true,” she said. “I tried to reassure them we have zoning in place and we have planning in place and we are working to give both boards more tools that they can use to protect us against some of these visions of apartment buildings or some other vision of development people have.”

The Village Board is currently reviewing a proposal to rezone much of its waterfront with an eye toward preserving access to and views of the water. While proposals to limit the height and mass of buildings have been well received, others that would allow additional commercial uses in the Office District have been sharply criticized.

Ms. Mulcahy said she did not know how much property Friends of Bay Street or related entities had purchased, and she stressed the village could not stop real estate deals from being made.

Besides Water Street Shops, Mr. Potter has only acknowledged that his group is close to striking a deal for the 2 Main Street building that is home to K Pasa restaurant and Espresso. He has also confirmed that he personally had purchased the Dodds & Eder building at 11 Bridge Street. Village officials said they have been informed by National Grid that Friends of Bay Street had also won the right to lease what is known as the gas ball parking lot on Bridge Street, although Mr. Potter said a lease has not yet been signed.

But if letters to the editor, discussion on Facebook, and talk in the street is to believed, the Friends have already purchased or are trying to purchase any number of properties up and down Main Street as well as in the area bounded by Bridge, Meadow and Rose streets.

Mr. Potter, as he has done several times in the past, said he believed residents would be pleased when they see Bay Street’s plans, but his efforts to control the release of details has stoked fears and demands that he be more forthcoming among many residents.

In a letter to the editor of The Express, the artists April Gornik and Eric Fischl, who recently opened The Church, a center for the arts in the former Methodist Church, and who were major backers of the effort to rebuild the Sag Harbor Cinema after it was heavily damaged by fire in 2016, expressed some of those concerns.

“We hope that everyone who loves Sag Harbor will step up and demand answers about what the developers’ actual plans are,” they wrote. “We would hate to have Bay Street Theater played as a Trojan horse for what is really a land grab that will forever change the village without heed to its character, history and needs.”

Ms. Gornik, along with Dee Hart and Lorraine Dusky, in a group email, encouraged others to voice their concerns to the mayor last week. That prompted a similar effort by Bay Street, which sent out its own email, urging people to call the mayor to voice their support for the theater.

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